Counting Songs That Count Up – Why? 10 Top Songs

Ever noticed that most counting songs count backwards? For example, in Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer, every time you sing a verse one man flies away. Or in Ten Fat Sausages every time you sing one sausage explodes!?

For some reason the culture of counting songs is based primarily around the concept of one less. You sing a song and then one item disappears and so you have one less.

This is not a bad thing. It is great for a basic understanding of number, and also to really grasp the concept of one less in context.

However, for very young children counting forwards is the first step. Before you learn to count backwards or find one less, the step before that is very certainly learning to put one number after another in a simple sequence.

Rote counting (the ability to count in sequence) is a crucial skill that underpins many other maths knowledge. (To find out more about what rote counting is and how to teach it, then check this out.)

For very young children in particular (2 and 3 year olds especially), these counting backwards songs are not always the best formula. They also need to be exposed to counting songs that count forwards.

But why songs that count up?

Counting in sequence from one is the most common way of counting in life. It is also the primary method of counting. It is best for children to master this first, before they can then attempt other ways of counting, such as going backwards or counting on from a given number. Therefore counting songs that count up really are the best answer especially for 2 or 3 year olds.

Although it is really important to learn other ways of counting, to introduce it too early can be a bit confusing. There is a definite order in the skills:

1. First, learn to count forwards, ideally past ten
2. Then learn to count backwards from at least five (Check out the very best 18 games for counting backwards here)
3. Thirdly, to learn to count on from a given number

I can’t find any songs that count up!

It’s true there’s not that many. However, they do exist, and this is what this article is for. I have collected my ten favourite songs, fingerplays and chants that simply teach the order of counting from one upwards. Some are old classics and others are less well know. Here they are…

Songs that count up

1. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Once I Caught a Fish Alive

This is a true classic of the repertoire! Everyone knows the first verse about catching a fish. But did you know there are extra verses about catching a crab and then an eel too! Check them out…

One, two, three, four, five,

Once I caught a fish alive,

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,

Then I let it go again.

Why did you let it go?

Because it bit my finger so.

Which finger did it bite?

This little finger on the right.

One, two, three, four, five,

Once I caught a crab alive,

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,

Then I let it go again.

Why did you let it go?

Because it bit my finger so.

Which finger did it bite?

This little finger on the right.

One, two, three, four, five,

Once I caught an eel alive,

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,

Then I let it go again.

Why did you let it go?

Because it bit my finger so.

Which finger did it bite?

This little finger on the right.

Some songs like this, could be brought to life either with actions, or even singing them with a parachute.

2. 1,2,3,4, Are your bottoms sitting on the floor?

This is one I have invented myself. It’s my ‘sit down chant’. Better for use in school or nursery than at home, but good for singing the numbers in order…

1,2,3,4,

Are your bottoms sitting on the floor?

5,6,7,8,

Sit down quick or you’ll be late!

3.One, Two Buckle My Shoe

Back to an old staple of the repertoire. Probably most people have heard of the easy version to ten. But did you know there is also a trickier version to twenty…

One, two,

Buckle my shoe.

Three, four,

Knock on the door.

Five, six,

Pick up sticks.

Seven, eight,

Lay them straight.

Nine, ten,

A big fat hen.

Eleven, twelve,

Dig and delve.

Thirteen, fourteen,

Maids a counting.

Fifteen, sixteen,

Maids in the kitchen.

Seventeen, eighteen,

Maids a waiting.

Nineteen, twenty,

My plate’s empty.

4. One banana, two banana

This is more of a chant than a song. Show the bananas on your fingers:

One banana, two bananas,

Three bananas, more.

Four bananas, five bananas,

Six bananas, more.

Seven bananas, eight bananas

Nine bananas, more

Ten yellow bananas!

5. One potato, two potato, three potato four.

This chant is best done with fists for bananas. Put one fist on top of the other every time you add a new potato:

One potato, two potato, three potato, four!

Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more!

6 .I Can Count

This one is much less well known…

I can count, want to see?

Here’s my fingers- one, two, three (Hold up fingers as you count)

Four and five, this hand is done.

Now I’ll count the other one.

Six, seven, eight and nine (Hold up fingers on other hand)

Just one more, I’m doing fine.

The last little finger is number ten.

Now I’ll count them all again.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!

7. Here is the Beehive

Here is the beehive (make a fist)
Where are the bees?
Hiding inside where nobody sees
Watch them come creeping out of the hive
One, two, three, four, five (release one finger at a time from the fist/hive)
…BUZZ-ZZZ (wiggle fingers)

8. One Jellyfish

Lots of songs that count back can be adapted to count forwards. Here is one example. Different tunes are possible with this song. For example, you could use Twinkle Twinkle, or make your own up.

One jellyfish, one jellyfish,

One jellyfish, swimming in the sea!

Two jellyfish, two jellyfish,

Two jellyfish, swimming in the sea!

Etc

9. The Ants Go Marching

There are several youtube versions of this tune to sing along to and get involved with. The general tune is the tune of ‘The Animals Went in Two by Two’.

The ants go marching one by one
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching one by one,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching one by one,
The little one stops to suck his thumb
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching two by two
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching two by two,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching two by two,
The little one stops to tie his shoe
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching three by three
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching three by three,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching three by three,
The little one stops to climb a tree
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching four by four
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching four by four,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching four by four,
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching five by five,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching five by five,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching five by five,
The little one stops to take a dive
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching six by six,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching six by six,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching six by six,
The little one stops to pick up sticks
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching seven by seven,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching seven by seven,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching seven by seven,
The little one stops to pray to heaven
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching eight by eight,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching eight by eight,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching eight by eight,
The little one stops to roller skate
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching nine by nine,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching nine by nine,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching nine by nine,
The little one stops to check the time
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

The ants go marching ten by ten,
Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching ten by ten,

Hoorah! Hoorah!
The ants go marching ten by ten,
The little one stops to shout “The End”,
And they all go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain.

10. Johnny Works With One Hammer

They love the actions for this, and getting involved with the hammering! The tune is that of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’.

Johnny works with one hammer (children hammer with one hand)
One hammer, one hammer.
Johnny works with one hammer,
Johnny works with two.

Johnny works with two hammers (children hammer with two hands)…

Johnny works with three hammers (children hammer with two hands and one leg)…

Johnny works with four hammers (children hammer with both hands and both legs)

Johnny works with five hammers (children hammer with both hands, both legs, and head)
Five hammers, five hammers.
Johnny works with five hammers,
Johnny’s work is DONE!

Conclusion

So give some of these counting upwards songs a go! The benefits for very young children are large. It really is what they need – counting forwards and mastering the sequence of numbers from one forwards is the best place to start for young children.

Learning to count 1,2,3,4…is the foundation blocks of the whole system. Master that first, before moving on to other ways of counting.

If you’ve found this article beneficial, then why not check out one of these:

17 fantastic ideas to teach rote counting

Maths circle time games – the essential guide (20 ideas)

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.