Oliver is 2 ½ and quite pleased with his ability to count. He can count forwards and backwards (and sometimes correctly!), but he has no understanding of what the numbers mean, although he does know that numbers relate to quantity. Rory on the other hand is 4 ½ and he can count correctly and accurately up to 10 and sometimes even higher. Oliver can count rotely whereas Rory can count rationally. Here’s a video to show you what I mean:
Learning to count happens in four stages:
Step 1: Number sequence
Between 2-3 years, children are able to recite the numbers in order. This rote counting is done without any understanding of how many things are actually in a set.
Step 2: One to one correspondence
This is the next step where the child is starting to count rationally. They are able to associate a number to an object and therefore count correctly.
Step 3: Cardinality
This usually occurs somewhere between 3-5 years of age. You will know it has happened when your child knows that the last number in a count, is the same as the number of objects counted. In other words, he or she doesn’t need to recount them. Graham Fletchy has a great post of this: https://gfletchy.com/2016/03/05/be-the-teacher-moving-from-counting-to-cardinality/
Step 4: Subitizing
Victory! This is the stage where the child knows the number of a small group without counting. This stage begins in pre-kindergarten and will continue to develop as the child enters school.
The progression between the four stages will happen naturally and your child may show some signs of moving to the next stage with lower numbers, but not with bigger numbers. For example, Oliver can put 4 forks on the table for 4 people (showing signs of one to one correspondence), but he can’t count how many trains are on the train track correctly. Rory can recognize groups of 5 fingers without counting, but he can’t recognize groups of 4 or 6. You can’t push a child into the next stage, but there are things you can do to encourage their development. Your role is to make counting real by pointing out all the real-world applications that you can. I’ve included some great activities on the activities page.