Children learn to count a bit like robots. This is certainly not a bad thing – it is just the way it is. You count with them as you go up stairs, or you count the clouds in the sky, or the cars going past, and always you are starting with one.
This is all great, and mostly in life the function of counting does begin at one.
However, this does mean that they learn how to count in a rote way. You are programming the parrot to say 1,2,3. They are not always visualising a sequence of numbers. And if you ask them to start counting at any other number they find it completely impossible.
You teach counting on from a given number by practice. Fun games and activities are used to get them to focus and to find it exciting. Use puppets, props and exciting resources to get them chanting from different numbers, and lots of modelling from an adult is required.
Read on to find out the top games to effectively teaching counting on from a given number…
So why not just start at one?
In life there are many situations where there is no need to start counting at one.
You have four sweets, for example, and then you get one more. If you are able to start counting at four, this is easy – four, five. However, if you have been programmed to start always at one, it’s a bit more time-consuming – one, two, three, four, five.
This process is made much longer if you have thirty sweets to begin with. Or a thousand!
To begin to problem-solve in real life, and use simple addition in a practical context (like the sweets example) it is good to be able to start from different numbers.
It is important for the following things:
- Finding one more
When should you start counting on from different numbers?
I think you should start to do this when children are secure at counting from 1 well into the teens and possibly to twenty.
There are many ways to support and teach children to develop this simple rote counting from 1. (If you’re not sure what rote counting is, and the best games to teach it, then check this out).
To do it before then could be a little too soon, and just add confusion into the mix. It is hard enough for them remembering this long sequence of unusual words and concepts, and it is better to wait until they have got that mastered.
Right then – time for the strategies…
1.Counting in a circle
This is a great way to get the ball rolling. Although not necessarily starting from a given number, it is good for getting children to think what comes next.
Simply sit in a circle, and get them to count, starting, at one and each child saying one number at a time. To help focus them, you could get them to pass around a toy and only say the number when you are holding the toy.
As I say, you are starting at one, so this is not really counting on from a given number. However, it lays the groundwork for that, and thinking ‘what comes next’.
2. Counting in pairs or teams
This is the next step. The easier way is to get into two teams. They sit or stand facing each other. Then it is like a tennis match. One team says ‘one’, the other team says ‘two’…and you keep going like that.
Again, not counting on from a given number, but laying the crucial foundation.
The slightly harder way of doing this is trying it in pairs.
Team up and one child says ‘one’, the other says ‘two’ and continue…
3. Counting sticks
Counting sticks are one of the very best ways of introducing a range of concepts in maths. It is a great first introduction to a number line. To find out my favorite 17 games to play with a counting stick then take a look at this.
A simple counting game is to follow a toy. The toy starts at one end of the counting stick and jumps along the sections of the stick. The children say the number every time it lands on a section.
You can tell them one end of the stick is 3, for example. Then try to count on from 3 – 4, 5, 6 etc. Follow the toy and try to keep going. Repeat, repeat, repeat! The first time they won’t know what you’re doing, so try it a few times.
4. Use a number line
This strategy works if the children can recognise numbers. If they can’t it is not so useful.
Get a finger puppet and start on a number on the line. Then simply jump the puppet along, and get them to say what number it lands on each time.
This can also be done with a counting stick with numbers stuck onto it.
5. Counting in different voices
This is excellent fun! Say today we are going to use different voices and all chant numbers together. Some classic voices are ghosts, aliens, witches, lions and princesses – but let the children be creative. They will come up with some classics.
Have a bag of numbers between 1 and 5 and pick one out, e.g. 4. Try to count like ghosts from 4. Then repeat. The repeating really helps.
6. Use dice
I have a different voices dice. Roll the dice and see what picture comes up. Then count in that voice.
It can be effective to get a puppet to whisper which voice to start with, and then use the voice from the dice to start at that number.
This is one of my favorite rote counting games (find out my top 17 games here).
7. Use two dice
I use two dices also for a fun game. One dice has pictures of the characters on, and the other has numbers on. The numbers can tell you what number to start counting from.
Roll both dices, and hey presto! You may, for example, get a four and a ghost. With your best ghost voices, start counting from four and make sure you go past ten. Always go past ten!
8.Use a puppet
Puppets are one of the best ways of teaching maths counting in general. You may well have noticed how children listen to puppets often much more attentively than adults. Puppets are a magic wand that really can’t be ignored!
A fun game is get the puppet to pull a number out of a bag. All the children then help the puppet count on from that number.
If you want to find out my ultimate 22 games for using puppets in teaching, then take a look at this.
9. Counting as you hit an instrument
The instrument just really engages their interest. To really gain their involvement further give everyone an instrument. Try and all bang your instruments in sync as you start counting from different numbers.
10. Jumping/clapping/ hopping etc
Physical actions work well in conjunction with counting. It is a good process to combine one action with one number. Doing this really cements 1:1 counting in a child’s mind.
In this game pick an action. I also use an action dice for this. I have a dice with six actions on – star jumps, hopping, clapping, jumping etc.
Pick an action, and then pick a number to start from. Count on from that number whilst hopping or jumping!
11. Jumping along a number line on the floor
This is great activity for outside. It is also good if you have some sort of giant number line on the floor inside. Outside it could be drawn on the ground in chalk or taped out.
A simple game is with a dice. Roll the dice, and whatever number you roll that is the number you start on, e.g. 4. Begin on 4 and jump along the number line saying each number until you get to the end.
12. Simple board games to ten
You can create your own racetrack board game. Have a grid with numbers on, and some counters for the players.
The players roll a dice one after another and jump the number that they get forward.
13. Dropping objects into a box
This is a good listening game, mixed with maths. Have a tray and some blocks, and a sheet to hide what you’re doing is good as well.
Have a few blocks already in the tray. Show the children and get them to count them.
Then say you’re going to drop some more blocks into the tray and we’re going to count on to find out how many there are. If you start at three, you say ‘Three, (drop a block)…four…(drop a block)….five…’ Continue counting on until you stop dropping them. How many have we got?
Count them again to check you are right.
14. Start beyond ten
It is a good skill when counting on to always go beyond ten. Children need to ‘bridge’ ten, and know it is not the end.
It is also a good skill to sometimes start counting beyond ten. This is definitely harder than starting with single figures, but a useful skill to have, and worth persisting with. Any of the games above can be adapted with a starting point beyond ten.
Children are often moulded to count like robots, but it is important to mix up their experience of counting and numbers as early in their lives as they are ready for. The more flexibility of mathematical thinking you can introduce early the better.
Importantly, though, counting on from a given number can be great fun. Use puppets, props, silly voices and any other tricks you can think of to get them counting on, and get them much more ready for calculating in a range of different ways.
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