Counting backwards is a really important skill. It starts off simply with counting songs and rote counting, but much later on develops into subtraction and other types of calculating.
But how do you teach backward counting?
Start to teach counting backwards with simple songs that practice the skill in a simple way. Use a variety of games that include counting backwards, like parachute games, hide and seek or hopscotch.
I have taught counting backwards to children aged 3 to 5 over the last ten years, and there are so many exciting games that you can try!
There is definitely a process to follow, that looks a bit like this:
- Begin with counting songs, chants and rote counting
- Develop different games that practice the skill of backward counting using number lines and in other contexts
- Extend the skill by counting back from a number other than 5 or 10
That’s roughly the process, and there are loads of fantastic games to try along the way.
I have split this article up into three sections – easy games, medium, and hard. Try to keep pretty much to this order, and counting backwards should become something that is fun and very possible to achieve!
Most of the games could be done either by parents with children at home or by educators in school.
Simple Counting Backwards Songs
The big emphasis to start with is rote counting. If you’re not sure what rote counting is, then check this out. You want to get children used to chanting and singing the numbers backwards.
Here are some great games to do this:
1. Zoom Zoom Zoom Song
This is definitely my number one counting backwards song! It is great for any children that love space and aliens.
Stand in a ring, put on your pretend space suit, gloves and boots – and then you all sing the following:
Zoom zoom zoom
We’re going to the moon!
Zoom zoom zoom
We’ll be there very soon!
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. Blast Off!
A top tip is always say ‘zero’, and then ‘blast off’ (don’t say 3,2,1, blast off!). This stops them from thinking that ‘blast off’ is part of the number line!
I have played this with a parachute before, and when you get to ‘blast off’ everyone throws the parachute into the air and lets go. If you all let go at the same time, the parachute flies up and sticks to the ceiling!
I would recommend starting counting back from 5, but you can always extend this to 10 or even 20 later on.
You can also put a puppet on the parachute, and catapult them ‘to the moon’…
The parachute I use is the 12-foot Sonyabecca parachute, and it lasted well for years. (You can check out the latest price on Amazon here.)
This is one of the activities in my article the 40 greatest parachute games for kids.
2. Dance Counting
This is fantastic fun!
Put a pumping tune on – some kind of dance track with a good beat.
Then, you simply do different dance moves as you chant the numbers backwards to the music – ‘5,4,3,2,1,0.”
This makes the process really active and gets the children really engaged. Also, you can repeat the action of backward counting without them getting bored.
3. Parachute Count-Down
Stand in a circle with the parachute. (This is one of the few games you can’t really do at home)
All do a count-down together, and shake the parachute for each number – ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0.’
This is another ‘blast off’ game! When you get to ‘0’, you all crouch down and then shout ‘blast off’ as you jump up and throw the parachute up into the air!
4. Count Backwards With Puppet
Need more practice? Puppets work like magic on many children. They create a kind of awe and wonder that few other things do.
Counting backwards works really well when led by a puppet. My all-time favorite puppet I’ve ever used is this giant monkey:
Kids absolutely love him, and you can use it for such a wide range of learning activities (to check out the latest price on Amazon for this monkey go here.)
Basically, the puppet will count backwards, and the children will try to join in!
Some ways of spicing it up could be:
- The puppet gets it wrong! The children have to show it how to do the skill
- Using silly voices! For example, if the puppet is a lion, then you can all count backwards like lions
Counting backwards with a puppet is one of the 17 activities to practice rote counting that I describe in this article.
5. Number Songs
Luckily a huge proportion of the most popular counting songs for young children involve counting backwards.
There are actually far more than count back than count forwards for some reason.
This is definitely worth taking advantage of!
Some great counting backwards songs include:
- Five Cheeky Monkeys Jumping On The Bed
- 5 Little Duck Went Out One Day
- 5 Fat Sausages
- 5 Little Men In A Flying Saucer
There are lots of other examples, but these are some ones they really enjoy.
In all of these songs you start with 5 of whatever it is, sing the song, and then one goes. How many have you got left? Then sing again, and repeat.
All of these songs are really helpful if you can add some kind of visual to the process. This could be:
- Some simple pictures (e.g. of 5 monkeys)
- Some toys that go with the song (e.g. check out these five gorgeous monkey puppets set on Amazon).
- Something to represent the things in the song (e.g. it could be 5 corks to represent the sausages). Using simple props and loose parts can work really well, and be cheap and easy to prepare
There are a few fun chants you can try out, that get children counting backwards in an enjoyable way.
One that the children in my class have loved is this ‘sit down chant’. This is when we have finished tidying up, and are sitting down on the carpet:
Sit down quick upon the floor!
Sit down quick to be a hero!
They all love singing that, and pretty much every one of them can do the counting backwards part of the chant.
Medium Difficulty Counting Backwards Games
When children have begun to rote count backwards, the next step is to begin to practice it in different contexts.
Here are some good games to do this:
7. Counting Back In Different Voices
This is a really fun way of practicing counting backwards in a way that they don’t get bored.
I have a dice with some different characters on it – a ghost, a witch, a monster, and other things like that.
One person rolls the dice, and whatever it lands on, we all count back in that voice. For example, count back from ten like a ghost!
8. Jump On Number Line
When children have got the idea of rote counting backwards, trying it on a number line is an important next step.
There are different ways of doing this. One good way is just to chalk a big number line on the ground outside. Chalk numbers on it – It could be 5 to 0, 10 to 0, or 20 to 0 if you are feeling ambitious.
A good simple game to try is that a child will start at the highest number on the number line. They jump down the line, one square at a time, saying the number that they land on.
9. Hide And Seek
Some old-school games are great for counting backwards.
Hide and seek is one of the best of these. The children can count back from either 5 or 10. It is a great way of independently practicing the skill in a play-based context.
Also hide and seek is great for many other skills such as problem-solving. Children get a thrill from being out of sight!
10. Count Down Teams
This is one that you need quite a few children for.
Split them into two teams. Also, have something you can use to point towards the two teams. A magic wand would be great for this, or even just something like a stick.
One team is going to face the other team. Point the wand or stick at the first team, and they say the first number, e.g. ‘10’. Then point to the other team who say the next number, ‘9’. Then the other team say ‘8’.
Keep bouncing back and forwards between the two teams until you get to zero. It’s a bit like a tennis match.
Then try again, but with the other team starting the process this time, so everyone gets to say different numbers in the sequence.
11. Racetrack Game Backwards
This is a simple game to play on a big number line somewhere. It could be a 1 to 10 number line chalked on the ground, for example.
This is a game for 2 to 6 players. Each player has some sort of counter. It could be colored stones or other found objects.
All start at the highest number on the number line. Then one player rolls a dice, and jumps their counter back that number of spaces on the number line.
Then the next person goes.
Keep taking it in turns to take goes until you get a winner. The winner is the person that gets passed the zero first! Good luck.
This is one of the activities in my article about the 50 best outdoor maths games.
This is another traditional game that is excellent for counting backwards.
The traditional way to play is to mark out a track on the floor. This is normally from 1 to 10, with 4 and 5 next to each other, as well as 7 and 8.
One player throws a stone, and tries to get it on number one. They hop over one, and to the end of the numbers and back, picking the stone up at the end. Then the other player goes.
It is a good game for going backwards in order.
For young children, you can simplify it in a few ways. For example, you don’t need to throw the stone onto the numbers in order. Just throw it anywhere and see what you get!
You can try jumping as well if they are not great at hopping.
Harder Counting Backwards Games
These next games extend the skills that children have now learned.
These games get them to explore:
- Counting back from different numbers
- Using number lines
- Practicing counting backwards in groups or pairs
- Applying counting backwards skills with objects and in play situations.
13. Roll Dice – Count Back From the Number
This is great for counting back from different numbers other than ten.
Simply have one dice that you roll.
I made my own outdoor wooden dice (like you can see in this picture):
However, you can also buy gorgeous outdoor wooden dice sets. (Check out the latest price on Amazon).
Anyway, in the game if you get a 4, for example, everyone tries to count back from 4 to 0!
You can do it in funny voices to jazz it up!
You could have a number line for them to look at to make it easier for them as well.
This game is one of 21 in my article about preschool circle time games that you can check out here.
14. Count Down Pairs
This is the pairs version of the countdown team game from earlier on.
Split the children into pairs. If you are a parent, then you can do this with just your child and you as the pair.
One person says ‘10’ (or ‘20’), then the next person says ‘9’ (or ‘19’). Bounce back and forward counting backwards until you get to zero.
Once again, use a number as visual support if you need to.
15. Rockets Racetrack
This is a fun and simple homemade board game. It could be a 2 to 6 player game.
Have one rocket for each player (these could be some kind of counter, or a rocket cut out made of paper).
You then draw on a large piece of paper or cardboard a simple number line track. It could be 20 to 0 for example, with each number being inside a box. All the rockets start at 20.
One player goes first, rolls a dice, and jumps that number backwards along the track. Then the next player goes.
Keep taking turns like this until one rocket has landed on zero or beyond it. Then they blast off!
16. Counting Stick
You can teach all sorts of simple maths skills using counting sticks. A counting stick is quite simply a long stick that either has some numbers written on it, or stuck on with Velcro.
They are a great introduction to a number line.
Try these different games for counting backwards:
- Pick different numbers to count backwards from
- Use a ‘boomerang’ picture. Replace one of the numbers with a boomerang. Start at zero, count up to the boomerang, bounce off it and then count backwards
17. Building Towers Backwards
You just need some kind of construction toy with numbers written onto it to play this game.
It could be wooden blocks with the numbers on 0-10. Or it could be Lego, or something else like that.
In researching this article, I have also come across these staggeringly beautiful number blocks that you can check out on Amazon here.
Start with the largest number at the base of the tower, and build up. The numbers will be going backwards as you go upwards.
Do a countdown to zero from the base of the tower when you have finished.
It is nice to tell them this is a ‘secret code’! Crack the code and the tower will blast off.
18. Pass The Ball Count Down
This is another game that is great for cooperation and teamwork.
It is best in a simple circle of children (or play it between two people if you are at home).
Have one ball, which you pass around the circle. The first child says ‘10’ (or whatever other number you are starting from). The second child says ‘9’, and so on.
Top Tips For Counting Backwards
- Make it fun!
- Start with songs and chants
- Dance, sing, jump and chant numbers together
- Offer games that children can play independently to practice the skill
- Extend to counting back from different numbers
- Count back on a number line
If you’ve found this article helpful, you can download my ’50 Outdoor Number Activities On A Budget’ book completely for free! Just go to this link, and download the ebook straight to your phone or Kindle for free.
If you have found this article useful, this website is bursting with many more blogs about early maths that you would definitely enjoy.