How children learn to count

Toddlers are surrounded by numbers all the time – whether door numbers, bus numbers, as well as counting when reciting nursery rhymes.

Lots of two-year-olds can say the number sequence one, two, three, four, five, which is one of the early signs of learning to count. But while they’ve learnt to say the words for the numbers, and can say them in the right order, there’s lots more they have to do before they understand what those numbers actually represent.  If we ask a two-year-old to hand over one toy, for example, they probably can; but if we ask them to hand over three toys it is unlikely they will be able to until they are between three and four-and-a-half.

Ways to encourage children to learn to count include:

Start early by reciting nursery rhymes and talking about numbers

Keep it simple by counting when you are out and about, such as counting stairs, cars, butterflies

Use maths language such as more, less, bigger and smaller

Put things in groups – this is a key part of learning to count.  We can encourage this skill by putting things into groups of two or three and saying the number. This will help the child with their visual recognition of the quantity as well as the number

Use your fingers – fingers are a great way for children to visualise a number

Mix up the counting – while a child may be able to count from one to ten, mix it up by asking them to count onward from three, or by encouraging them to count backwards.  This ensures that they thoroughly understand the numbers.