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Supporting Mathematical Development in Young Children

This video describes children's understanding of quantity and their development of counting skills from rote to purposeful. It also provides examples of how early childhood professionals can both explicitly teach this skill and support its development through daily routines and play. 

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  • Video Transcript for Counting

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    Download a transcript of this video in .pdf format in English and Spanish.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan, Eastern Connecticut State University: Very young children, even before preschool, experience counting in their day-to-day routines and their life. They listen to adults, and they see their peers counting. And they begin to develop this basic sense.

    Child: Two, three...
    Provider: four
    Child: five

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: Initially, children engage in counting that is pretty much rote. They recite the number names in a sequence. And they understand that this sequence has to be maintained without dropping a number word. And so initially, when children count out objects, they might be using rote counting.

    Child: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: As they do this more and more, you will see that children begin to be more purposeful. When they recite the number words they are saying one number word per object. And they also begin to realize that counting lets them determine how much of a certain quantity they have.

    Child: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: So, there is a distinction between rote counting, which is just recitation of number words, to purposeful counting, which is the rational counting in determining how much there is of a certain item.

    Child: Can you pass me four dollars?
    Child 2: Four dollars!
    Child: Thank you.

    How Do You Provide Opportunities for Meaningful Counting?

    Narrator: Adults can provide meaningful opportunities for children to engage in purposeful counting throughout the day.

    Supporting Math during Routines

    Cathy Tormey, Home Child Care Provider: They love the baking, you know, counting 10 times when it’s their turn to stir. My home has 13 steps. All the kids know how to count to 13…at least at some point.

    Cathy: Four, five, six.

    Integrating Math Learning in Play

    Narrator: While children are playing with blocks, they can be encouraged to use counting that’s related to their play scenarios.

    Teacher: Could you get me four blocks? Because I want to build a house.

    Explicitly Teaching Math Concepts

    Narrator: Adults can plan intentionally to support children’s counting skills in both large and small groups.

    Teacher: Four. Let’s count, ready? 1, 2, 3, 4. Four little Gingerbread Men…

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: Young children usually enjoy counting, especially counting to higher and higher numbers. Through carefully planned curriculum, you can provide diverse opportunities for children to practice their counting skills and to gradually develop into rational counters.

    © 2016 Connecticut Office of Early Childhood
    Produced by the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

  • Other videos in the Supporting Mathematical Development series (2016):

    See more videos related to early childhood mathematics

  • Producers: Terry Surprenant, Sean Leser, Julia DeLapp
    Script: Terry Surprenant
    Content Expert: Dr. Sudha Swaminathan
    Videography/Editing: Sean Leser
    Narration: Sean Leser
  • This video was funded by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood to support implementation of the CT Early Learning and Development Standards (CT ELDS). See more CT ELDS mathematics videos and resources for using them in professional development.

    The Center wishes to thank the following Connecticut programs, organizations, and agencies who assisted in the making of this video:
    Cathy Cares Child Care, Willimantic
    Child and Family Development Resource Center, Willimantic
    Connecticut Office of Early Childhood
    Cooperative Educational Services School Readiness Program, Trumbull
    Early Childhood Laboratory School at Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport
    EASTCONN - Plainfield Head Start, Plainfield
    Natchaug Elementary School, Willimantic
    Windham Early Childhood Center, Willimantic
    Windham Early Head Start, Columbia
    Women's League Child Development Center, Hartford