Counting is usually the first mathematical skill parents work on with their kids. It’s easy and practical, and every toy out there seems geared to help you do it. So why would anyone intentionally skip over it?
Counting is memorizing without understanding. Many kids can count to 10, or even 20, before they even understand the difference between the value of one and two. I decided instead of counting, to focus on the actual values of those first few numbers.
Numerical value is a key building block of mathematics and it is rarely given the attention it deserves. It lays the foundation for place value, operations (adding, subtracting etc.), money, and many more important mathematical topics. Yet, ask any teacher or math tutor, many kids have trouble truly grasping numerical values, even after moving to much more advanced mathematics.
I choose to focus on numerical value through normal, everyday interactions, and occasionally more structured activities. I am only focusing on the values 0-4, until my daughter shows that she understands those values and is ready for larger numbers.
Use favorite foods or toys to show value of numbers
Whenever I am giving my daughter an item such as grapes, or crayons, I tell her how many I am giving her. My goal is to give her a visual of what each number looks like as a group, not to have her count them one by one. Ultimately, I want her to realize that she would rather have four grapes than two grapes.
Point out small groups of items while out
“Look, I put four bananas in the cart.”
“Do you see the three boys playing at the fountain?”
“There are two ostriches chasing our wagon!” (true story)
Build towers with blocks or legos using specific numbers
Montessori primary classrooms use various length red rods, and red/blue rods to teach value. I do something similar. I create stacks of two, three and four, legos or unifix cubes for my daughter to compare. By referring to each stack by the number of cubes it contains, I distinguish between the different values of each number.
“All gone” was one of my daughter’s first phrases, along with everything else food related (she LOVES to eat). Recently, I have transitioned to using the word zero to describe when there is nothing left. It is a surprisingly unnatural word to say, but it is good to develop a tangible meaning for the value of zero.
Montessori is great at teaching numerical value and you can find classroom instructions here.
Greg Tang writes brilliant and beautiful books that reinforce number sense (recommended age 3+).