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Why do some kids have trouble counting?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

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Question: Why is counting so hard for some kids when others just seem to get it naturally?

Answer:

I’m glad you asked this. Counting seems so basic that many people don’t realize how much goes into it.

Counting involves many small but critical skills. Together, these skills are sometimes called number sense. This is the ability to understand what numbers are and how they work — without thinking about it.

For example, kids with number sense naturally understand concepts like amounts and what more and less mean. They know there are symbols for numbers, like 5 means five things.

To count well, kids also need to learn and remember those symbols. That requires a skill called working memory.

There are ways to help kids get better at counting at home and at school. Families and teachers can work together to come up with a plan.

The first step is to take a closer look at what’s happening and take notes on what you’re seeing. Is counting the only challenge? Are there signs of anxiety or frustration? This is important information for parents and teachers to share.

When kids struggle with math, it can make them feel bad about themselves. Point out their strengths, and remind them that other kids also have difficulties, too.


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