At an early age, children already have an inherent understanding of numbers. It might take them until the age of 2 to start articulating what they know, but some scientists believe that we are born with the concept of numbers already implanted in our brains. Neuropsychologist Brian Butterworth wrote a book called “The Mathematical Brain,” claiming that our ability to count is just like an instinct.
This information should prove to you that there isn’t all that much you need to do to help your child learn to count. Most children just need to be exposed to situations that will force them to articulate the concept they already fundamentally understand.
According to Butterworth, children have the capacity to understand numbers at just 12 months old. This means it is up to the parents to provide them with the necessary context in which to use their innate ability. As they get older, it is important to expose them to situations that require them to count. By making it a part of everyday life, you can turn this learning experience into a fun game for them to play.
Encourage them to count items in the refrigerator or the toys they play with. Ask them to set the table with the appropriate amount of silverware. Allow them to measure things around the house, like measuring out flour into a measuring cup or using a measuring tape to measure the rug. Activities like these can help children learn the applications for numbers and counting.
Other activities that can help are having your children work on their ability to sort things according to a pattern. Matching blocks by color or shape actually helps to lay the foundation for learning how to count. Many believe that our inherent ability to count—how we know there to be more than one object, even if we can’t say that there are three objects—is simply an extension of our spatial awareness as a cognitive species. By practicing pattern recognition and organization, you can help your child hone their ability to understand numbers as a concept.
You can take it another step further by challenging your child’s ability to work with numbers. Instead of keeping things linear, try changing it up and see if they can adjust. This will tell you if they have an advanced understanding of the concept or are just remembering the rules they have been taught to follow.
Ask your child to tell you the number that comes before or after a random number so that they can learn context out of sequential order. Another great test for your child is to have them count from a number other than one. This will help them count from a larger group, which will be important when they need to solve simple addition and subtraction problems.