Making counting more fun

As usually happens, whenever I have an assignment due at OISE, it feels like a good time to make another post. Perhaps because I am drowning in papers and ideas I don’t fully understand (yet), it is satisfying to post about something I actually know something about!

Over the past two years, I have been making and using counting strings in the classroom with children ages 2-6. Even though Montessori classrooms have an abundance of hands-on mathematics materials, there was something lacking for the young children learning to count. Counting is more than reciting the string of numbers. Children need to have a concept of quantity and need to be able to make the one-to-one correspondence between the number they say and the object they are counting.

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To bridge this gap, I borrowed a tool from the golf world – a stroke counter. Thankfully my golf came has improved since my teenage years, when a stroke counter with 10 beads would have come in quite handy on virtually every hole!

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Why do we need an aid for children learning to count? English has irregular patterns in numbers for the teens, and for 20, 30, and 50.  Unlike in many Asian languages, which would use ten-three for 13, and two-tens for twenty, we have to learn new words. Practice with these numbers is required to build fluency and accuracy in counting. The reason the strings I make go up to 50 is that after 50, all of the number patterns are regular – sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety are all predictable.

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The number strings I make for the children are simple, and embody the following characteristics:

  • beads are attached to the string and are slid along as they are counted
  • each decade (set of ten beads) is of one colour
  • colours adjacent to each other are contrasting
  • string for very young children has 10 beads
  • string for children ages 2-3 has 20 beads
  • string for children ages 3-6 has 50 beads

When the children are in class with me, I get them to choose the colours of the beads we use and count out 10 of each. When the string is completed, I show the child how to count along the string, then have the child count and slide each bead along as he/she counts. I make a note about the child’s progress and/or which numbers require prompts. That day, the child takes the counting string home to keep. Quite often, I make a 20-bead string and the child counts so well that we progress to a 50-bead string very quickly.

So, how do you make one?

To make a 20-bead string:

  • Select 10 beads each of 2 contrasting colours.
  • Cut a piece of string about 3 feet long.
  • Fold the string in half and tie a knot 2 inches from the fold.
  • Use a bit of glue on each end of the string to make the end stiff.
  • Slide each end into opposite sides of one bead, then slide the bead along to the knot.
  • Add the next bead in the same way, sliding it down next to the previous bead.
  • When all the beads are added, make a knot about 1 1/2 inches away from the final bead.
  • Trim the ends of the string to about 1/2 to 1 inch away from the final knot.

IMG_0668I have shared these strings and ideas with Kindergarten teachers – and they have found them useful in the classroom.  Let me know if you find that they work.

Teri Courchene

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About Teri Courchene

Instructor at U of T School of Continuing Studies, Math tutor. Education: CSC, MEd (OISE), AMI Montessori Diploma (FME), MA Economics (Queen's), BA Economics (UWO)
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