In this article:
Have you wonder how to teach your preschooler numbers?
Have a preschooler kid or two? Millennial parents seems to be really into anything earlylearning nowadays. Two things they’re so eager to stimulate their children are usually these; reading and counting. Now let’s talk about how to teach preschoolers numbers.
Many thought that counting simply means the child is able to say numbers in the correct order, from 1 to 10 as a start. Some other thought, “My child can recognize the numbers 1 to 20, now what? Can I introduce her to 1+2 already?”
Well, apparently there are different stages of kids’ ability to count numbers.
When a child can sing “one two three four five” it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re able to tell which one is number one, two, or three.
Wait, whaaaaaat…?
Read on…
Or more ideas of number recognition play?
And how old is your child/children?
Three Phases of Counting
I have been reading some articles from an educational website, homeschooling mom’s blogs, or kids activities blog, and found this interesting stages of how a child learned to count.
There are at least three phases of counting that children will learn.
These are the basic to prepare them the foundation for the next higher math; addition and substraction.
 Rote counting; counting in order, to say the numbers in sequence.
 Number recognition.
 Number sense, or concept of quantity, with onetoone correspondence: numerals with group of real objects.
Counting in Order. A.k.a Rote Counting
When you heard a child counting “one, two, three, four, five”, that is what people called rote counting. It basically means counting numbers sequentially.
The simplest form of counting, usually this is the first math skill a child learned. They might even started rote counting even though you never intentionally taught them!

Show them how to count their fingers, by counting out loud one by one

Listening or watching nursery rhymes about numbers and counting.
Among some favorites counting rhymes are (linked to their YouTube videos correspondingly):
Start with counting up, from one to ten.
This is easier for your preschooler to master, before they can imitate the counting down.
Number Recognition
This is the phase when your child learned that “1” is number one, “2” is two, and so on.
This is when they know the NUMERALS.
So it’s more on what they see visually.
Again, usually we can start teaching them from 1 to 10.
Even when they watch the nursery songs about counting, they’ll most likely start recognizing some of the numbers.
Number recognition can be learned in many activities in daily life.
The main idea is, show them a number, and tell them what number that is.
Once they know certain numbers, you can play by asking them to mention the number they see, or find a number that you call out.
Number recognition is quite easy to play even while you’re on the go.
Some examples you can try are:
 by pointandtell, showing them numbers on the house door, road sign, bus number, story book, magazine, etc.
And you say it out what number it is.
Then slowly ask them to try telling you the next number you show them.
 use any toys which has numbers on it. E.g. numbers play mat, number flash cards, or magnetic numbers set.
I made a simple number cards with paper and marker, and used them to learn number recognition like the one on the picture below.
Or you can also try to play number memory games like I did here
If you plan to get some flash cards, you might want to consider getting the sand paper number cards like this instead (or, if you’re crafty, I believe you can also make your own).
The rough surface of the number is good for tracing exercise.
While memorizing the number, you can ask your child to trace the number with their finger.
This is another basic skill before they learn to write later on.
The magnetic numbers set is another favorite of ours.
I love that I can use them for many MANY ways!
I used them to practice number recognition for my younger daughter, and math addition for my eldest one.
It includes some animal shaped counters as well to use for counting. Perfect for doing onetoone correspondence counting too.
And what I love about this set, they’re using full magnetic layer at the back, unlike some other which use small magnetic parts which could be a loose choking hazard for small children.
I posted a close up look on my IG here.
Onetoone Correspondence, a.k.a Counting Real Objects
Some people also called this as number sense activities.
This is usually would come after they can do the rote counting (saying numbers in order), and they can recognize the written numbers.
Although sometimes you can introduce all three at one go in an activity (more on that below).
What is actually the onetoone correspondence in early Math?
This is how a child learned the concept of objects quantity.
A child might be able to say from 1 to 20 in the correct order, but unable to tell you how many candies you gave him, even if it’s only less than 10 candies.
So this is the stage when they learn that a number actually represents the “how many” of real objects around them.
….
Well yea I realized that last sentence is pretty much whatyatalkinabout Lol.
Perhaps some examples here might give you better idea.
How do you teach them onetoone correspondence?
In simple terms, by showing them how to count out loud some objects in front of them, while pointing/touching each object as you count.
Ideally, it would be nice if you have the written number nearby (number card, or you can write it on a piece of paper), which showing how many objects you’re counting. So then your child will be able to see, for example, the three candies with the number 3.
“Ok ok… But how on earth do you teach them that?”
This is some basic ideas on number recognition.
 Choose a number and line up some objects in front of you.
Think about blocks, toy cars, cheerios, M&Ms etc.  Start by you do the counting while they’re watching.
Start from one, while touching the first item, and continue counting and touching, until you reach the number you’ve chosen at the beginning.  Repeat with other number. Slowly you can ask them to count together with you.
 Watch if they understand when to stop counting once they touch the last object.
Why this is important?
Because during the rote counting phase, they’re more likely to get used to count to 10, everysingletime.  Then once they get comfortable playing this, ask them to count without you.
Gradually, you can ask them to get you something in some countable amount.
“Can you pass me three crayons over there please?”
“Can I have five Cheerios please?”
You can count with them while they’re getting the items you’re asking.
Or you can play ISpy; “Can you find four balls in this room?” “Do you see two black cars over there?”
Or play treasure hunt outdoor (which I did in this post), “Can you find three leaves? Two pink flowers?”
Related Articles about Teaching Preschoolers about Numbers and Counting
You can also read my other posts where I did some onetoone counting:
– using popsicle sticks,
– or colorful pompoms.
Read A Story Book
This is another favorite of mine, you can read to them while they can also learn about counting.
With a story book, they can do rote counting, they can learn number recognition, and they can also practice counting with onetoone correspondence with the pictures in the book.
Some alltime favorite counting books you might want to check out;
 The Very Hungry Caterpillar – the famous counting book!
 Curious George’s 1 to 10 and Back Again
 Count The Monkeys – and they never made it to actually count the Monkeys!
 Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed
 Counting Kisses (another popular book with hundreds parents reviews!)
(Hmmm.. do you think I should make a children’s book list in a separate post? Counting books? Baby books? Let me know, I’d love to hear your suggestions!)
Conclusion on How to Teach Your Preschoolers about Numbers
Numbers should be introduced in a play, not because we the parents want them to have early numeracy knowledge.
At the end of the day, I don’t think it really make a different whether my child can start counting at the age of 2 or 4.
What matters is, we as parents could be a cause on whether they love or loathe to learn (math, that is).
(And I also have another article on why we need math in life 😉 )
Nurturing the love of learning, it’s what we want.
So don’t stress too much if your child is not interested yet in learning numbers.
For example, others may have different opinion on this but based on my observations I do think kids under 3 would most likely do rote counting only.
So just keep singing with them, keep playing, keep talking and showing them things around the house.
Remember to keep it simple and fun!
Nope, don’t expect they’ll stay to play your “math game” long enough, 15 minutes is a good achievement I would say. 😆
Just do it slowly, regularly, and incorporate it in your daily activities.
So that’s it!
Which one do you do the most with you kids? Or have other favorite nursery songs or books you want to add?
Let me know in the comments below!
Todd Matthews says
The treasure hunt idea is one that I haven’t come across yet, but I’ve seen many of the others, such as the songs, nursery rhymes, popsicle sticks, etc. I love the treasure hunt idea, though, because not only does it teach kids numbers such as three leaves as you mentioned in your example, but it also can teach them about objects, colors and shapes of objects, etc. In other words, it can expand on counting and in time, it can even add in a time sequence, which will just keep their mind going in a positive manner. What’s your take on my theory here?
Dieni says
Hi Todd,
Ooh yesss you’re right, I didn’t think about how versatile a scavenger hunt can become. We’ve done color and shape grouping in the playground before, and also object comparison (which one ‘bigger’, ‘biggest’, ‘smaller’, ‘smallest’). But now you mentioned it, yes I think it can also incorporate math for older kids. Like nature measurements, building 2D/3D with sticks, fractions, etc. Thanks for the insight!
Anusuya says
Hi there,
You have added learning with fun in preschooler’s inquisitive mind. This post will help the parents, teachers and kids alike.
I remember my toddler daughter learning to rote numbers with clapping. She claps with me and pronounces the numbers. We stop at 10 to start with. I cared more for her enjoyment than just learning.
She also uses to sing 1 2 3 songs as well but she enjoyed clapping more. She dances along with her clap.
Did she get a sense out of the numbers? I do not think so but can’t tell for sure.
I heard that 21/2 year kids in India have to write some kind of essays for preschool entrance to get into good schools.
The learning through various activities described here is awesome. It is full of enjoyment and the kid would not know if they are learning but they really do. I love your post.
Dieni says
Hi Anusuya,
Yes in those toddler years they’d usually loooveee the singing and clapping. And, totally agree with you that their enjoyment is more important than just for the sake of learning. My eldest (now in grade 2) still love to sing songs to revise her multiplication facts 😀 Sometimes it’s indeed a different, fun, way of learning, is what they need, don’t you think so..? 🙂
Glad if you like the article, thanks!