Unit Two: Rote Counting


Go back to Unit One: Numeral Recognition

Go back to Developing Preschool Number Sense

Learning Objective

  • Learners will explain the place of rote counting in the developmental understanding of number sense.

What is rote counting?

If you've ever heard a child count "one, two, three, four, five ...," you have heard rote counting. Rote counting is the simplest number concept that children develop, and it merely consists of counting numbers sequentially. Counting by rote is a skill that come quite naturally to most children, as it doesn't require direct instruction to learn the skills needed to count. It usually begins developing before children recognize numerals, but once children are exposed to more number experiences at home and/or school, the two skills develop together.

How to incorporate rote counting in a preschool classroom

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Sing and listen to songs that have counting in them

Finger Plays

Morning Meeting/Circle Time

  • Rote counting during morning meeting can be as easy as counting to ten as a group, with the objective of "counting together." One way to encourage counting together is by stomping or clapping each time a new number is spoken. A way to extend this is to ask a child, "What number should we count to?" This is a challenge because it makes children think of a number name and because the children need to retain the name of the number that they must stop at.
  • Do a counting-down, rocket ship blast-off. To begin, the children squat down and pretend to be rocket ships. The teacher then says "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off!" When the teacher says "blast off," the students pop up to a standing position.

Count During the Day

  • When gluing something during project time, have the children count to three (or five or ten, whatever is appropriate for the child) as they hold down the object they are gluing. This can be applied to aspects of arts and crafts other than gluing as well.
  • During clean-up time, ask the children if they can finish cleaning up by the time you count to ten. This is a way of having the children hear numbers counted sequentially. Many students will count along if you do this. Beating the clock at clean-up time is a big feat in preschool!
  • Just count for fun during any part of the day!

Why can rote counting be tricky?

Watch this video, and listen carefully to what the child does. (The video is oriented sideways) [Counting From 1-50]

This child seems to be at a point where she can count up to about thirty without assistance, and with some assistance from an adult can continue counting to 50. If a child like this girl can rote count from 1-50, adults might have the false assumption that the child also understands the meaning of the numbers they count. This often isn't true in the early stages of rote counting (Center for Innovation in Education, 2011).

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Let's say a few preschoolers in a class can confidently count by rote into the twenties and thirties. Sometimes they skip one number as they count. How does does a teacher check these children's rational counting skills (i.e. counting beyond merely rote counting)? Record your answer in a personal space (word document or notebook). You may write a bulleted list, full sentences, or concept map for your response.

One way of informally checking children's number sense is by having them estimate during morning meeting. Children can take turns estimating the number of objects in a small jar. If a teacher places 5 cotton balls into a jar and asks students to estimate or "guess" how many cotton balls there are, there will likely be a range of responses. The children who guess numbers close to five likely have a more developed sense of numbers than those children who guess numbers like "35" and "100 million" (<-- a surprisingly common answer!).

Put Your Teacher Hat On

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Meet Suzy. She is a student in your preschool class. She is four and a half years old. At a parent-teacher conference, you show Suzy's father some of the work Suzy has done. One work sample is a ladybug counting book. Each page has a numeral and the according number of ladybugs. The book goes up to the number seven. Another work sample is a picture Suzy drew of her family. After drawing the picture, she said "I have five people in my family, see? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5." You have included a post-it of her statement on the picture. You are very pleased with her number sense up to this point. Her father looks to you with a somewhat concerning facial expression. He says, "I see that Suzy is counting to seven here at school. At home, my daughter counts to 50 independently! What are you doing to challenge her?" In the discussion space, write a paragraph that explains to Suzy's father what rote counting is, and what her counting to 50 independently means. Comment on at least one other class member's submission, giving them one point of criticism and one compliment (this will strengthen your and your classmates' statements).

Go on to Unit Three: One-to-One Correspondence