By Eric Dearing and Sara Schnitzer
“How many elephants are on this page? Let’s count them! What number is this? Let’s trace it with our fingers!”
Picture books offer many opportunities for young children to practice counting, a key early math skill. They are also really fun to read!
Any book with illustrations or numbers can be a counting book. Reading both written numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3) and number words (e.g., one, two, three) develops children’s counting skills.
Families can use reading time to help children practice recognizing numbers and finding the answer to, “How many?” Follow your child’s lead by choosing book topics they’re especially interested in, making funny sound effects as you read, and lingering on pages they like.
You can support counting skills by:
To inspire and support families to engage in math learning together, the nonprofit Tandem, Partners in Early Learning collaborated with DREME to produce a collection of video resources that promote family math. The videos are short, free, and feature real families. Designed for families and professionals who work closely with families, the videos are suitable for home, community workshops, family playgroups, and parent-practitioner meetings. Explore the videos, including ideas for exploring math in everyday family life and helping children build positive math attitudes.
The Stories That Count video shows parents and children enjoying counting books together. In the video, Savitha and her son Avi read together and identify numerals, point and count things, and talk about the illustrations that Avi likes. Another parent, Dulce, and her son Tonio count on their fingers, talk about how many things in all, and make funny animal noises while they read!
Both examples show how parents can turn storytime into a playful math learning experience. The math that Avi and Tonio are working on—recognizing numerals, counting objects one-by-one, and labeling the total number of things in a set—are important skills that will prepare them for school and later math learning.
The video includes suggestions of picture books that support counting skills. DREME offers storybook guides, including many in Spanish, to help parents and caregivers talk about math with their children while reading together.
Eric Dearing is Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and has a visiting professorship in the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo, Norway. Sara Schnitzer works at Boston College. The authors are members of the DREME Family Math and Math+ projects.