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Learning to count

“2 times 2 times 3 times 4 equals A, B, C …”

Maybe counting isn’t really her strong point, but Pippi Longstocking knows how important numbers are. Even if she is sometimes a little bit wide of the mark.

Numbers are found simply everywhere in daily life. And without counting there would be no maths. Without them, buildings would be unstable and many things wouldn’t make sense. Everyone would arrive late, because no-one could tell the time. No-one would know how much they had saved in the super-sale. Some games wouldn’t even exist.

In brief: without numbers or correct counting, the world we know would not exist. So it is really important that play introduces even toddlers to counting.

We show you great ideas and exercises for teaching toddlers their first numbers and motivating them to count.

When do children learn to count?

Counting first starts in a small way, and the first attempts are very simple. But it’s good to start early. As soon as your child starts to distinguish quantities and also to name them, then that can be defined as counting. This may not necessarily mean that toddlers understand when they repeat numbers, but counting aloud and talking about it certainly benefits your child. Play can thus help your child to discover numbers and learn to count. 

Researchers have discovered that at 18 months children have already developed a rough understanding of numbers. “Proper” counting first starts around age four. You will observe that from this age numbers are not merely learnt by heart, but that an understanding actually exists.

But even before that, you can familiarise your child with the subject of numbers, for example through suitable toys, songs, or educational games which are fun.

How can I support my child in learning to count?

Continuity is the most important thing when learning. If you want your child to learn to count, then just build simple counting games into daily life. If you talk about what you are doing, situations where you need to count can also help your child.

There are lots of things that parents can build into the daily routine in order to encourage a child. For example, the bedtime story: simply select a picture book. It will certainly include things that can be counted. Or just open the pages of a counting book and, together with your child, start to count animals, cars, or princesses. Bookshops have a great selection of educationally valuable counting books which make it “child’s play” to learn numbers.

Really important: Take it easy

Whether it’s learning to talk, or the first few steps in learning to count: Every child has their own personal learning speed. Parents should respect this and should not create pressure. Even if your child is having trouble with numbers, other skills are probably better developed. Maybe your toddler’s vocabulary is particularly large? Or perhaps their motor skills? Even if that isn’t the case, there’s no need for you to worry – it will come with time! Until then you should support and encourage your child.

A good way of teaching toddlers is to ask playful questions. How many animals are there in a picture? What is the right quantity – one, two, or three? Or, for example, draw five circles and give a few options for the correct count. However, even more variety and fun can be provided by counting games!

Which games are especially suitable for counting?

Almost everything can be counted. Are you writing a shopping list? Then write the count next to each product, and name the products. Or maybe you’re baking a cake and you need four eggs? Show them to your child and count them loudly and clearly while you beat in the eggs. You and your child can count birds or cars together when you’re out for a walk. And even if there’s nothing exciting to count, you can simply use your fingers for counting.

Learning can be quite strenuous. So that your child still stays in a good mood, build happy learning games into your daily life. Best of all: You can play most games almost anywhere, and without much preparation.

Building towers

A good idea for introducing your child to counting is targeted play using building blocks. Together, build the bricks one at a time into a tower. While building, count the number of bricks aloud, and get your little playmate to repeat the numbers. Ensure that you build the tower together, and that you count aloud clearly. 

The advanced variant includes the use of numbered cards. You can simply draw the numbers from 1 to 10 onto a sheet of paper and cut them into little cards. Put one of the numbered cards in front of your child and get them to build a tower containing the specified number of bricks.

Finding numbers and groups

Numbers can be discovered almost anywhere, whether as house numbers, as prices when shopping, or in books. Many things contain numbers. Just go on a journey of discovery together with your child! For example, you could leaf through a book and ask about small numbers based on the page numbering. Initially you can simply ignore large numbers, so that your child is not overstretched.

Another variant is to find groups rather than individual numbers. Together with your child, take a careful look around your home: What do you have more than one of? Maybe four umbrellas? Ten cups? Three identical cupboards? The greatest fun is when the items are household objects which can be piled up together, e.g. shoes or cake moulds.

DIY play tip: Riddle fields

Draw ten fields onto a large piece of paper. Write each of the numbers from one to ten into a field. Initially, the numbers should be in the correct order and have different colours. In the respective fields, draw simple shapes such as a circle, triangle, rectangle, or square. Pick up your child’s favourite Toddy, bring it through the individual fields, and count them together aloud. To make the game more challenging, ask your child what the number in a specific field is, and get them to point to it with their hand. This links the visual to the cognitive, and helps your child to develop numerical reasoning. 

To make it to the next level, also ask your child about the shapes and colours in the respective fields, in addition to the numbers. This is because playing together develops all the skills of a child – including language or motor skills.

Our Toddys help children to “grasp” numbers! Dismantling and re-assembling a Toddy creates individual parts, and is great for learning how to count. 

In conclusion:

Learning to count is a natural stage in your child’s development. Some children learn this quickly, and others take longer. Both scenarios are completely normal. The most important thing is that you support and are there for your child. And you don’t need much to do this! Because we are surrounded by numbers in our daily lives, you can develop many great game ideas and build little exercises into the routine of the day. No matter whether you use a numbers book or count on your fingers: tactile experiences make it easier for your child to take in new impressions. In this way, not only is learning fun, but it becomes a lot easier.

Even though children are naturally curious, it’s important that your child stays in good spirits when learning new things. Play and fun make it much easier to learn, and to enjoy the time together.

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