Play and Learn with Counting Books

Picture books offer many opportunities for young children to practice counting, a key early math skill. They are also really fun to read!

Key Points

Key Points:

  • Any book with pictures can be a counting book.
  • There are easy ways to build children’s counting knowledge while reading together.
  • See how real families use picture books to support their children’s counting skills.

“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!

Read and Build Counting Skills

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:

  • pointing and counting things in pictures,
  • tracing numerals and saying the number aloud,
  • counting on your fingers, and
  • circling groups with your fingers to show how many there are all together.

Watch Families Learn from Counting Books

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.

Practice counting while reading picture books together. Find ideas for supporting this key early math concept in this video.

What to Read?

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.

About the Authors

Eric Dearing is Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.

Sara Schnitzer works at Boston College and is an affiliate of the DREME Network.