Eimear Hutchinson: How to encourage your kids to count

In her weekly column in Women on Wednesday (WoW!) Eimear Hutchinson shares some tips she has learned, on how to teach your children how to count
Eimear Hutchinson: How to encourage your kids to count

“If you are counting out anything, use your fingers so that children are reminded that numbers mean and relate to something,” says Eimear. Picture: Stock

I AM an Engineer by degree and a Doctor by PhD, although even saying those now about myself seems foreign. I’ve been a stay at home mum for over four years now so it feels like a different version of me that used to be concerned with wastewater treatment systems and sustainability on dairy farms.

These days, the only algorithm that confuses me is the Instagram one and my concern with sustainability is much closer to home.

However, despite my days revolving around my little army of red heads, I still see and realise the benefit of maths. As a mother of girls, I also feel I have a particular responsibility to encourage maths, given the generally low numbers of girls going into STEM careers.

There are some simple ways at home that you can encourage both boys and girls to count and tune their brains into simple mathematics from a young age. You’ll see many of these techniques serve to benefit the whole house and many of them you are probably already doing without realising.

Start by using your fingers more, if you are counting out anything use your fingers so that children are reminded that numbers mean and relate to something and aren’t just concepts plucked from the sky. Don’t worry if your child can’t count to 20 by the time they start school, working on them understanding what the numbers 1 to 10 actually mean is much more beneficial. It’s like the alphabet, lots of children can sing the alphabet but it often doesn’t really mean anything, they are simply reciting the letters like words of a song. And of course that is great too, it works their memory and mind in a different way.

One of my favourites ways of getting the girls to understand the meaning of numbers and of giving relevance to numbers is to get them to count out the cutlery and cups needed for dinner. In our house for the main evening meal it is generally four sets of forks and knives and one plastic spoon for the baby so it’s under 10 items (my husband eats later in the evening, in case you’re trying to figure which one of us eats with our hands!).

Once the girls reach about three years old, I get them to count out the four cups needed for each of their drinks because that is a manageable number for a child of that age and from around three-and-a-half years old I get them to start counting out the cutlery.

Getting the children to count as they tidy up is a brilliant way of encouraging them to count and to help out at home. This is age dependent obviously but say you have a five-year-old who can count to 20, you can get them to do it two times or three times, depending on the mess!

It also gives kids a definitive amount of time to get something done so it is much quicker, I don’t know about your house but if I simply say to my kids ‘tidy up that room’, four days later it is still in the same, if not worse, state!

It is also nice to show children that numbers don’t just have to relate to a physical things and to illustrate that numbers relate to other concepts too. Counting the steps of the stairs as you go up, playing games like hopscotch, skipping or the game ‘what time is it mister fox’ are all good ways of showing children that numbers can be associated with movement and distance. If you have kids that get involved in baking, getting them to measure out liquids and other ingredients is a good way of demonstrating the concept of volume and weight.

Never one to let an opportunity pass, I use the time spent driving in the car as a good time to demonstrate numbers too. As you pass speed signs it’s a nice way to show relativity to children. They won’t understand the numbers per se but they can start to understand what is bigger and smaller and showing them how you slow down or speed up as you go from one limit to another is a great introduction to the concept of speed. If you get stuck in traffic or you’re on a long journey, counting the number of red or green cars that pass by is a nice way to pass the time productively.

It probably goes without saying, but playing games with kids too is another nice way to introduce numbers from a young age, with games like Snakes and Ladders a great place to start. Games are a great way to get the family together and to teach kids the value of winning and losing as well as teaching them numbers. Other games that I find great include Quirkle, dominos, Monopoly, simple card games like snap or 21 and UNO.

There are some simple ways at home that you can teach children to count and tune their brains into simple mathematics from a young age, says Eimear Hutchinson

As a mother of girls, I also feel I have a particular responsibility to encourage maths, given the generally low numbers of girls going into STEM careers.

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