Counting with my Four-Year Old

So, even with all of the school closings we have had, our four-year old girl is about to have her 100th day of PreK this week. Her teacher, the amazing Mrs. K, sent out an email asking the parents to have their lil ones count out a hundred of something before Wednesday’s festivities. Since it is Valentine’s weekend we have plenty of candies around. We decided to have Mo count out 100 Valentine’s M & M’s. She seemed unsure of this large task so we sat with her and encouraged her to think in groups of 10. She confidently counted to 10 and we emptied a small bowl into a larger one. She was confident in her teens and counted 11 – 20 comfortably. Then life got a little interesting. We emptied into the larger bowl and she paused. I’ll write in dialogue form for a little while here –

mrdardy :  What comes after 20?

mo:  30

mrdardy: Well, eventually. What comes between?

mo: blank stare…waiting for an answer

mrdardy:  21?

mo: 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30! [A successful decade of counting!!!]

Now, I empty small bowl

mrdardy: What comes after 30?

mo: 40!

mrdardy: Eventually…What comes in between?

mo: blank stare…waiting for an answer

mrdardy: 41?

mo: 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, …50?

empty bowl again

mrdardy:What comes after 50?

mo: 60!

mrdardy: Eventually…What comes right after 50?

mo: 51?

I smile and nod and she’s off to the races again. She gets through the 50s, she gets through the 60s, then something funny happens. As she gets to the end of the 70s she says seventy-eight, seventy-nine, seventy – ten. She says this hesitatingly, almost as if she realizes something is funny but does not know how to fix it. I ask her what comes after seventy, hoping she’ll repeat her earlier mistake, but she’s too wise for that now. She says seventy-one. Sigh… I tell her that seventy and ten is eighty and she repeated the same mistake at the end of the 80s and almost at the end of the 90s. After a pause, I can get her to say one hundred triumphantly.

A number of questions pop in my head here and I am hoping that some who are much more expert in dealing with these questions will visit and share their wisdom (I’m looking your way Prof. Danielson)

My main questions here are

  1. When I repeat this with her soon, how many of these mistakes will she make all over again?
  2. I know that the teens are more in her comfort range, but the odd style of the names of these numbers seems inconsistent with all the other number names. I thought that she’d try to say something like twenty thirteen, etc.
  3. She’s almost the youngest in her class. How much developmental stuff is happening in the 8 – 10 month difference in age in her class?

Curious. I hope to gain some wisdom in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Counting with my Four-Year Old”

  1. I’m not an early childhood educator or developmental expert, and to be honest, I don’t remember doing this with my children (their learning to count to 100 is about 15+ years in the past), but I think it will be interesting to SEE what errors she repeats. She clearly picked up the 21, 22, 23… pattern quickly; the others may take a little longer. Fascinating- enjoy the father-daughter math!!

    1. Wendy
      Thanks for dropping by. It’s been fun learning by her side and my 10 yr old boy is now wrestling with long division. Fun as well, but a different experience for sure.

  2. This stuff never gets old for me. There are so many interesting ways children try to figure out number language—endlessly fascinating! Thanks for sharing. As to your questions…

    1. Who knows? It seems that she now understands what you mean by What comes after 20?. I doubt you’ll cycle through that again. But you might. Seventy-ten could resurface for sure. And eighty-ten and ninety-ten. But they may not. The only way to know is to count with her again in a few days.

    My experience is that you cannot always identify the moment when the mistakes disappear. It may happen while she sleeps!

    2. What you expected to happen is in fact quite common. And what she has actually done is also typical. Crazy, right?

    It is somewhat less common for kids to master their teens before the twenties. You may have seen this video of Tabitha at age four. The power of the pattern in the higher decades often means that kids count correctly from 20 to 29 before they can count correctly from 11 to 19.

    3. The variation here is great. Except at the extremes of advanced or delayed development, that variation is not really anything to worry about. Mo is counting like a normal four-year old. One way to view the difference between her and her classmates is that she has a bunch of slightly older mentors from whom she can learn a lot. And kids develop on their own schedules, so she has more sophistication than some of her classmates in some dimensions and less in others. If she’s happy at school, she’s in the right place.

    1. Prof. Danielson

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful (and quick!) reply. I will definitely try to re-enact this conversation soon. Probably Weds night after their 100 Day celebration. Assuming, of course, that there are no more cancellations between now and then!

      She IS happy in school. She talks endlessly about her teachers and classmates. It’s a good feeling packing her off in the mornings knowing she is enjoying herself. thanks for the reassurance there. We have a 10 yr old boy but these days are far enough behind him that I don’t remember clearly and there is a huge difference between the two of my kids in how they have approached these hurdles. He was more hesitant than she has been.

      If anything fun happens in our convo Weds night, I’ll share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *