I am amazed by how well little ones understand numbers. I have been fascinated as I’ve watched Sammi develop an understanding of numbers and counting. Her spontaneous learning of numbers and counting is one of the reasons why I consider homeschooling on an almost daily basis. We talk about numbers at the most random times, like the breakfast table, a public restroom or the car. Wonderful opportunities for learning that can’t be planned or shoved into a classroom setting. [end soapbox]
This post is inspired by my mom’s visit. She has been here a week already and has another week left. Sammi, who adores her grandma, has fretted since the second day of her visit that she would be leaving any day. Sammi asks every morning if this is Grandma’s last day. Since it’s hard still for her to grasp the concept of a week, my mom thought of making a countdown chain for her so she could see how many days are left. It was also a way to prepare Sammi for Grandma’s departure so that it wasn’t a shock to her on the day that Grandma actually leaves. I was skeptical at first because I didn’t think it was very upbeat to count down the days till Grandma leaves, especially not right in front of her! But it has worked out well for Sammi. She has stopped asking and now runs to count the links on the chain to see how many days are left.
Little ones as young as 19 months are beginning to use numbers. They start by understanding the concept of more and then move to saying actual numbers in fingerplays and such. As they have more experience with numbers and counting, they begin to imitate counting at around 2 years. They also show an understanding of “one” and “one more” about this time. Then, around 2 1/2 to 3 years they start counting numbers in order. I remember Sammi got really good at the number one. She always acknowledged objects around her that were in the quantity of one. Then she moved on the the number two. She spotted two of a kind every where we went. It was about this time that she also started to understand the question “How old are you?” and could respond with her age, and favorite number, two. As she turned three, she fell in love with that number and could quickly find groups of three all around her.
I find it interesting that her progression through numbers has matched her age. Though now, at 3 1/2 she’s also got a handle on the numbers four and five. Elli is just starting to get the number one. I love to help her show 1 finger when people ask her how old she is. She doesn’t get it quite yet, but it certainly is cute to see her hold one finger up.
In addition to counting up, children (eventually) need to be able to count down in order to do simple math functions like subtracting. One easy way to introduce counting up and down is with songs. Music is a great way to help turn skills or knowledge into a game. Information can also be easier to remember when it’s set to the rhythm and melody of a song. Here are some great songs and variations for introducing numbers to little ones.
Number Songs and Variations
- 1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little “Indians”—we sings “girls-dancing,” “books-in the library,” “toddlers-jumping,” “babies-sleeping,” “trucks-vrooming” (Count up and then count from 10 back down to 1)
- Wheels on the Bus—”1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Begin again. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10″ (Shows counting up)
- 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (Shows counting down)
- 5 Little Ducks (Shows counting down)
- 5 Little Speckled Frogs (Shows counting down)
While we don’t want to expect our little ones to fully grasp the concept of numbers and counting up or down just because we sing these songs, it is a fun way to expose them to these concepts. It’s also one of those magical parenting moments when you see the light bulb go off when the concept of 5 clicks with the 5 Little Speckled Frogs one random day.