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Counting Principles for Preschoolers

By Joy Lubawy

As Jean Piaget pointed out to us, it doesn't matter where you begin to count. What matters is that when you count, you count only one object at a time, count it only once, count them all, and remember where you started so you can finish at the same place.

The technical terms are one-to-one correspondence, stable order and cardinal number principles. These words sound more difficult than they really are. I would imagine that most adults reading this blog know these principles. This makes them counting experts in a young child's mind, and soon with your encouragement and modelling, children too will master these skills and show they know these concepts.

Young children learn one number for each object quite early, but they don't always know the stable order principle. This means they will count the fourth object as being the sixth because they counted 1, 2, 4, 6. If they do this, they know the last number counted is the number of the set (cardinal number principle).

Young children do not need stencils and worksheets to learn to count well. Instead, they need real objects: shells, buttons, or polished stones, as we see in the picture. Make it interesting and aesthetically attractive by offering cork or bamboo mats to count on, make patterns on, and classify on. The background makes a difference to how children work and pay attention.

To learn and explore more counting adventures, check out Preschool Math.

This post was contributed by Joy Lubawy. Joy has more than thirty years of experience in the early education field, including teaching children with special needs, directing preschools, and educating teachers. She now travels between Australia and New Zealand providing professional development in the areas of curriculum, imagination, creativity, and documentation. Joy lives in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia. 

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