In the real world we usually don’t count by ones, beginning with one. It takes too long. We find ways of getting to a number much faster. We may begin at a higher number we know and count on or count back. For example, you have groups of 10 stacks of plates, and you need 12, so you’ll just take a stack and add 11, 12 and now you have 12 plates. Or you need 7 plates, so you’ll take a stack and then take away 10, 9, and 8 so that you have 7.
These faster ways of counting work because of a rule for rational counting, the stable order rule. This rule states that the order of numbers is a fixed pattern, with each number representing a quantity that is always one more than the number that precedes it and one less than the number that comes after it. So put in another way, 4 is one more than 3 and 3 is one less than 4.
Children need experiences and practice counting in different, flexible ways while learning these rules of counting. And what better way to do that than through the books they love to hear over and over.
A favorite book and song is Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Counting with Five Little Monkeys is a classic activity, a counting down one, that kids love and love to act out in different ways. But you can extend their learning by asking all kinds of questions that touch on these rules of counting.
Can you count how many monkeys would be jumping on the bed if everyone in your family pretended to be a monkey?
Can you count how many of you would be left on the bed if one of you fell off? What if 2 of you fell off?
What if 2 more monkeys came over to play with the 5 little monkeys? Can you count how many monkeys there would be if they also started jumping on the bed?
Another great book is The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. In this book, Ma’s cookies become irresistible to her family and friends. As guests come to partake, the cookies continually disappear into hungry bellies. It’s a relatable and well-told story for young children, and it introduces some ideas that can be explored along the way. Just change it to pizza!
Your family is sharing pizza. Into how many pieces should it be cut?
Decide on 2 different pizzas to share. How many would want a slice of one? How many would want a slice of the other? How many want a slice of both? How many pieces would that come to?
Grandma brings over enough pizza so everyone in your family can have two slices. How many slices is that?
With Five Little Monkeys and The Doorbell Rang along with some playful questions, children have many opportunities to become flexible with the rules of counting that exist in everyday life.