Effective Practice Guides

Counting and Cardinality: Do


Try the following practices with preschool-aged children. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.


  • Make counting part of everyday routines, like setting the table or determining the number of people in a play area.
    • Counting requires several distinct skills: reciting the number-word sequence while keeping one-to-one correspondence between the objects being counted and the number words assigned to the object. So, it’s ok if children make some mistakes! It’s still a great practice to model counting throughout the day and encourage children to self-correct.
  • Model and teach counting strategies (e.g., touching objects, lining up objects, or moving each object to the side after it has been counted).
  • Provide children with many opportunities to count small groups of objects and move gradually to larger groups.
  • Use the question “How many?” to encourage children to count, compare which has more and which has less, and talk about quantity.
  • Provide number-related games such as board games with a spinner, a die or dice, and other games such as dominoes, number blocks, and cards and puzzles with numbers.
  • Use counting songs, finger plays, and children’s books with numerical content to provide a playful context for practicing counting and understanding cardinality.
  • Encourage children to write numbers that are meaningful to them, such as their age, how many people are in their family, how many letters are in their first name, or how many blocks they stacked to create a tall tower.

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Talk with parents about their experiences and comfort level with using numbers, numerals, and counting in their own lives as well as with their child. Help parents better understand math terms and expectations for children’s learning to increase their comfort level.
  • Encourage parents to use the language(s) they know best when talking with their child about numbers, numerals, counting, and quantities. Identify number-related songs, rhymes, and chants that parents can sing with their child.
  • Share children’s books that involve numbers, numerals, counting, and quantities with parents, particularly those that can be found in the local library or your program’s lending library. Share strategies for using number concept books with their child.
  • Work with parents to identify materials and household objects they could use to help their child learn about numbers, numerals, counting, and quantities. Brainstorm opportunities to use numbers, numerals, and counting with their child during daily routines and family activities.

1California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 242–250, Understanding Number and Quantity, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf [PDF, 8.8MB].

2National Head Start Family Literacy Center (NHSFLC), High Five Mathematize: An Early Head Start and Head Start Math Resource Guide (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NHSFLC, 2010), 37, 41, https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/publication/high-five-mathematize

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018