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The Importance of Counting

Numbers Game
  • Mathematics is sequential, as it builds upon existing knowledge and skills. All future learning will be built upon early learning.

  • There is mathematical language built around concepts: e.g. plus, altogether, add, sum, etc

  • Using concrete materials helps children visualise & understand how maths works

  • Children generally move from concrete maths, to visual representations of maths through to abstract maths

  • Frequent, short exposure to real life counting opportunities, helps children recall the correct sequence of numbers

  • Recalling some specific numbers in sequence can be difficult due to them sounding similar to other numbers

What I did that worked well with my own children was looking at some of the things I was already doing and I added a layer of mathematics to it.

Beginning counting

I exposed my children to counting in our everyday world from a young age.


For example: How many fingers on each hand? How many plates did I need for our family when I was setting the table or dishing up dinner? How many knives, forks, spoons, cups etc for an evening meal. I discussed this and counted as I went, initially beginning with my child accurately counting to five... nothing more, just five.

To revise this your young child can set their own table with plastic plates and cutlery for your family, mimicking what you do. And you can count it with them.


Choose three, then later five: Get your child to put three pieces of pretend food on each of their plates. Count them together. Count how many pieces of cutlery, again 1, 2, 3 a knife, fork and spoon. Add two more pieces of food to one plate. Discuss how they could make it fair so everyone got the same amount.


Then I expanded: How many fingers on 'both' hands altogether? How many toes? How many shoes at the back door? While sorting washing: How many blue socks in the washing, how many black socks, white socks, etc.

  • There's a simple 'Build a Beetle Game' that reinforces real counting to six. Roll a dice, count the spots. Collect the corresponding numbered part of your beetle. The object is to be the first to collect all your pieces and build your beetle first. There is a commercial game available or there's a similar easy to access paper version on Wikipedia. Or you can just type Beetle Game into Google and there will be a copy you can access.

Kids Running
  • What's the Time Mr Wolf?' The object of the game is to touch the wolf's back before he calls 'Dinner Time.' The wolf stands far away from the other children with his/her back turned to the group. The children call 'What's the time Mr Wolf?' And the wolf answers stating the time. The children step the number of steps the wolf says closer towards him. e.g. If the wolf says 'Three o'clock,' the children take three steps closer. The wolf turns his back again while the children chant and says another time. The process is repeated again and agin. The children get closer and closer to the wolf and when he spins around and calls 'Dinner Time' the children have to run back to their original position to be safe from the wolf. You can play this in a pool: 'What's the time Mr Shark?'

  • Red Light or Freeze Game. The object of the game is to touch the Traffic Light's back before he catches them moving towards him.  The traffic light stands far away from the other children with his/her back turned to the group. The traffic light counts loudly to ten while the children creep closer towards him/her. When the light reaches ten, he/she spins around facing the group attempting to spot children still moving closer towards him. If he catches them they have to go back to the start.

  • Reinforcing charts. Counting stars on a chart to reward appropriate behaviour. For example. If they pick up their toys before going to bed they get an extra star on their chart towards a privilege.

Cute little girl playing with shape puzz

I loved using counting songs and rhymes for young children. First to five and then to ten.

(Remember maths is sequential so don't rush it. I tried to make maths fun so my children felt they were good at it. I wish I'd had such a positive attitude to maths when I was growing up as my children had.)

Quilted Elephant
Quilted Elephant 3
Quilted Elephant 2

There are many examples of these songs on the internet so I'm sure you can access them to learn to sing them if you don't already know them. Playing them in the car with young children can be a good way of utilizing the time. And it's likely your child will have one or two favourites so they'll be happy to practise their counting. Sesame Street played the same counting song to ten over and over again and children learnt it.


Maths can be an integral part of every day play for your child if you are aware of some simple things that you can do to support it.

  • Counting your steps as you walk together is a really simple way of building on young children's ability to count. You can start by counting to five, then over time ten. How many steps at the front of our house? How many steps to the letter box, the garage, your swing set, your cubby house, etc?


  • As your child gets more capable increase counting from ten to twenty and when they've mastered that on to thirty.

  • Play 'Guesstimate.' How many dolls do you think there are on your bed? Count and check. How many switches do you think there are in your room? Count and check.

Some Simple Counting Songs:

  • One Two Three Four Five Once I Caught a Fish Alive,

  • Three Jelly Fish,

  • Five Little Ducks,

  • Five Currant Buns in the Bakers Shop,

  • One Elephant Went Balancing,

  • Five Naughty Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,

  • Five Little Speckled Frogs,

  • Johnnny Works with One Hammer,

  • One Potato Two Potato,

  • The Ants Go Marching,

  • Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer,

  • There Were Ten in The Bed,

  • Alice the Camel Has One Hump,

  • One Little Finger,

  • Five Fat Sausages,

  • Here is the Beehive, etc.

  • You can have a 'Numbers Day' when you look for specific collections of a particular number. FOUR: E.g legs on a dog, tyres on a car? Another day change it to FIVE: fingers, toes, people in their family, petals on a flower... The things children will remember there are five of.

Kids Stacking Blocks
  • 'Block Stacking.' How many blocks can they use for their tower before they fall?

  • 'Toy Sort.' Sort plastic animals or cars/trucks or collectables into different types and count to find which you have the most of. Start with two piles and then increase the number as your child becomes more capable. Introduce concept of more or less.

Wooden Cars
  • 'Count as you Cook.' Get your child to count the numbers of cups/ spoons/ items that go into bread/ cake/ biscuit making. As they get older increase the complexity.

  • 'Tweezers Grab.' Using tweezers encourage your child pick up and put ten tiny biscuits into a bowl. As they get better introduce multiple bowls and multiple amounts to ten. You can reinforce with numerals or dots to make it self-correcting if you wish, beginning with 1 through to 10

  • 'Countdown to Rocket Blast Off" commencing with 5, then later 10.

Rocket Blasting Off From Earth - Element

For more information on helping children learn mathematics go to the following:

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This website provides examples of what worked for me over decades and you are welcome to use these ideas as you see fit but you do so at your own risk. Best Parenting does not provide any guarantee that this information will work in every circumstance with every family or with every child. It is your responsibility as a user of this website to ensure that you adhere to any recommended safety suggestions either implicit or explicit on this site and supervise your children while playing any games suggested. Similarly users of this website are advised to follow any recommendations for seeking professional advice as all information on this site is generic. Best Parenting is an independent website and is not affiliated with any other groups, clubs, religious organizations or educational systems.


Best parenting takes time. The best parenting advice ever is simple: Do your best, don't give up and love your children, no matter what.

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