Teach a Child to Count Image


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,










Although I do not have any children, I do know how important it is that kids starting learning numbers at a very young age, way earlier than I would have ever thought! You have great information here, and great book recommendations. I’ve always wondering what I would do when I have a kid, I’d feel like it’d be hard to make sure they are getting all of the material that they need to stay on track, especially before entering kindergarten. It’s good to know there’s information out there like this. Thanks so much for sharing.

Feb 25.2017 | 07:41 am


I love articles about kids. I’m a father myself, which is why I don’t mind learning more about them 🙂 Your article was very informative and well-written. Your insight about them having to learn to count to 100 as soon as possible was very interesting, and it actually seems like a good idea. When they can count to 100, they can pretty much count to 1000 since they know all the numbers.

What an awesome article, thanks so much!

Feb 25.2017 | 10:38 am


    It’s good to hear from you, Brandon. I’m glad you were able to get something out of it. Most of all, I hope you enjoy learning with your children in the years to come.

    Feb 25.2017 | 12:00 pm


Good day, Elizabeth, I have been in teaching most of my life (not in Math, though), and I agree with you on how important it is for a child to start counting at a very early age. As young as possible will benefit the child to fully grasp numerals and calculus at a very early age. You discuss very important math principals here and I am sure this will be very useful to readers who land on your website!!

Feb 25.2017 | 11:15 am


    Thanks Jacob. I appreciate your encouraging remarks.

    Feb 25.2017 | 11:58 am

Derek Smith

I think more emphasis should be placed on increasing intelligence in the younger generations – heavens knows there’s enough crap around doing the opposite, far too well.
I really like your approach. It’s also fun to tease the little scamps by putting your hands behind your back and telling them “if you can guess how many sweets I have, you can have them both” and watching the thought processes take place.

Feb 25.2017 | 02:16 pm

    Josephine Crawford

    Derek, and here lies the answer, we need to make the teaching and learning process more fun.

    Mar 01.2017 | 11:22 am

Josephine Crawford

Elizabeth, I was first drawn to this article because in my country we are having a serious numeracy issue and the teachers are those who are blamed. I agree that we have some teachers who are woefully lacking in their methods, but your article demonstrates that early numeracy begins at home and how important parents are in this triangle. One point I especially loved and agree with is when you said we should remember to teach our children to form the numerals and to not assume they know how. I think a lot of our students are unable to write properly because we neglected to teach them how to form letters and numerals. Thanks for a rather insightful article and I wish you continued success.

Mar 01.2017 | 11:20 am


    You are absolutely right about the difficulties students encounter when they haven’t been taught how to form their letters and numerals. Historically it’s always been assumed that children needed to be taught handwriting. Pushing kids to write without teaching handwriting first is a relatively new fad. I am saddened by the results. Yes, many children do OK, but far too many are harmed. I think that handwriting is being pushed aside because it does not appear on standardized tests, and because it has been assumed that computers will make handwriting obsolete. Recent research indicates that writing is an important skill for retaining information and organizing ideas. In other words – handwritten notes are more useful than typed in notes or pictures of instructors’ notes.

    So good to hear from you again, Josephine. Thank you for stopping by.


    Mar 01.2017 | 12:20 pm

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