Yes, This is Important!
This is a much bigger deal than you might think. Your student needs to understand the ordinal nature of numbers. Zero comes before one, then two, three, etc. He (or she) must be about to count to one hundred fluently, and understand that thirteen and thirty (for instance), are very different from each other, both in terms of their counting order and the quantities they represent.
Your student needs to be able to recognize one object, two and three objects and count as many as one hundred objects. He should also be able to associate the correct numeral with the quantity of objects he’s counted.
There are some easy and fun ways to begin this process with young children. One of these techniques is to simply play dominoes with your child. Remember to talk, talk, talk! Always refer to the dominoes by numbers, asking the child, “Can you match a three, five or seven?” for instance. You want your child to begin to automatically associate the words with the numbers of dots on each domino.
You can also encourage your child to count change with you. Mix it up. Show the child a small number of coins, preferably pennies, and ask him to count them and tell you, “How many?” As the child progresses, discourage counting for quantities under 5, simply asking, how many? Later, you might ask your child to “Give me seven pennies,” or some other reasonable number. Try to make it fun, and incorporate it into your day to day life as much as possible. Ask “How many?” whenever the circumstances seem right. Counting the sugar packets are on the table at a restaurant (for instance) can keep your child out of mischief for awhile, and serve an educational purpose. I don’t think I need to tell you to keep these lessons positive and fun.
Before asking your student to count to one hundred in writing, please teach your student how to write the numerals correctly. The laissez faire practice of letting kids “figure out” how to form letters and numerals on their own is the number one cause of dyslexia diagnoses, with all the attendant drama and heartburn. Unlearning bad habits is much, much harder than learning how to form letters and numerals correctly in the first place.
Regardless of how old your student is, observe him coloring and drawing in order assess if he is ready for handwriting. Don’t attempt handwriting until he is ready! (Students are ready for handwriting when they use round, smooth circular motions as well as sharp back and forth motions while coloring or drawing, and color in the lines fairly well. If this does not happen naturally by a reasonable age, it can be encouraged with fun exercises. Leave me a comment if you’d like to know more.)
When the student is ready for writing, I recommend Handwriting without Tears. Each grade-appropriate workbook is less than fifteen dollars (after shipping), and the results are phenomenal. Their printing and cursive system is the simplest, clearest and easiest – I promise! If this is not practical for you, it is nonetheless important to make sure your student forms each number from left to right, top to bottom. It is also helpful to teach the simplest possible version of each numeral.
Learning to count to one hundred in writing is excellent handwriting practice. For this reason, don’t wait until your student’s handwriting is perfect to begin this exercise. My favorite way to start this is to write all the numerals from 0-9 across a page, then 10-19, 20-29, etc, all the way to 100, which should be by itself under the 90, on the last row, first column. I use green pencil for the units, blue pencil for the numerals in the tens place and red for the hundreds. (The colors you use don’t matter, just be consistent) One hundred, for instance, is written “100.” I then ask the student to trace all the units or all the numerals in the tens place. This serves the dual purpose of allowing the student to see the repeating patterns within our base ten system AND making the initial exercises shorter and easier. When the student seems ready, I simply omit the numerals I want the student to fill in.
Eventually the student writes all the numbers from zero to one hundred, but reaches this point in easy stages. The student needs to develop fluency in handwriting before writing the numerals from zero to one hundred is a reasonable task. Modeling is extremely helpful in getting the student to do this cheerfully and correctly. I always sit beside the student and write out his next exercise as he completes the current one. In this manner I model the correct formation of the numerals and I am on hand to give the student steady encouragement and correction, as appropriate.
Make sure your student is able to count any quantity between zero and one hundred and write the correct corresponding numeral before you move on to measuring, addition, basic shapes and subtraction.
I’ll be writing about teaching addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts next. They all dovetail neatly together, and working on this together can be a great deal of fun for you and your child.
All the best,