Clara, who is two, is kind of a hilarious counter. She’s got one and two pretty well down, but from there things deteriorate. Sometimes, it’s “one, two, seveneight, nine, ten.” Sometimes, it’s “one, two, rumphteen, rumphteen, twenty.” Needless to say, she’s not in charge of the family finances.
There are a variety of schools of thought when it comes to teaching counting. Math has never been my area of teaching strength or interest, so I don’t claim any expertise here other than what I’ve seen work in my own classrooms and household. I’ve taught second graders who couldn’t count, and I have a four year old who basically taught herself. The one concept I’ve held onto as essential, though, especially if you’re attempting to work with your own children, is one-to-one correspondence.
This is the idea that each object, when counted, is “one.” Thus, when counting beans, each bean is counted separately. If you’ve watched an early counter try to do this, they can get confused pretty easily. They might smoothly move beans one through five, touching each once as they count, and then count six and seven for a single bean. Alternatively, they might move two beans as they count eight. My personal opinion is that this is largely developmental. You can help a child learn to do this more efficiently and accurately, but they won’t do it entirely independently until they are ready.
Clara has watched Bethany count things, so she tries to imitate with her own methods. I started to wonder what would work well right now, since her fine motor skills are not the strongest. (Side note: yes, we are thinking about developing those, too, but sometimes it’s best just to focus on one area to prevent unnecessary frustration. If our goal is one-to-one correspondence in counting, then I don’t want to stack a fine motor activity on top of that right now. There will be time enough for that later.)
However, I didn’t have any cool plastic balls, and I don’t leave anywhere near the dollar store, so I improvised with what I already had on hand: toilet paper rolls. I sliced them up, and put them on a piece of string tied onto our Learning Tower. If you were really thinking ahead, you could paint the pieces and make this less monochromatic.
There are some ideas that take fifteen times longer to execute than they will actually be used. This is the opposite of that. It took me about fifteen seconds to put it together, and Clara went back to it repeatedly over the course of the evening. It’s also easy enough to remove and put back up as she’s interested in it. I’ll be honest: the best part was Bethany’s excitement when Clara actually moved one piece at a time to count it. 🙂
For the future, I’m thinking that Cheerios or rigatoni on a thinner string might be a good fine motor activity, and we could put enough of either on the “abacus” that Bethany could practice counting past twenty. I’ll update when we give that a try and let you know how it goes.
And, as we finish 2013, I’d like to thank those of you who stop by to see what we’re reading and making. I’m excited to see what 2014 brings! Happy New Year!