25 Terrific Ways to use Counting Songs with Kids
by Nadine Cooke
When you are looking for ways to help young children learn to count or to get them ready for maths at school...Here are 25 activities for kids to help them learn how to count using some catchy counting songs that raise engagement, energy levels and provide plenty of happy maths feelings.
And remember, early math skills are the strongest predictor of later success in school, so it's worth getting kids engaged and understanding.
Why use Counting Songs?
Songs are a great way to introduce our counting system to young kids, especially to those for whom counting is a challenge. Singing releases feel-good endorphins, reduces stress, increases blood flow, and builds group cohesion. And while you are feeling all warm and fuzzy, your neural network is firing and ready to learn. What a perfect way to introduce, consolidate and revise counting with kids. Counting songs provide that positive emotional connection with learning which is so essential to motivation and success.
Songs can make it easier to embed the counting sequence into long term memory (perfect for anyone with a learning difficulty), they increase children’s number vocabulary (big vocabulary, big school success), model one to one correspondence of objects and numeral matching.
There are Many Steps to Counting Success
Now reciting a counting song doesn’t equate to deep conceptual understanding of our number system, but it is a valuable first step. From repeating a string of sounds to isolating words, to matching words to numerals, to quantities, to cardinality, to conservation, abstraction, magnitude, unitizing…successful counting is a huge undertaking.
But you’ve got to start somewhere, and by linking the songs with the counting actions, kids are on their way to real understanding.
What if my voice scares small dogs?
Rest assured, you don’t have to be a contender for The Voice to use counting songs effectively at home, prep or school. Just your enthusiasm and a desire to instil joy into children’s learning lives. View my counting song clips . They will help you learn the tunes and prove that you definitely don’t have to be a brilliant singer to have fun with numbers.
11 to 20 Counting Song: count from 1 to 20 with a strong focus on counting forwards and backwards from 11 to 20. Great for consolidating tricky teen numbers.
Count to 120 Maths Song for Kids: This song skips quickly over 1 to 20 and gets stuck into the numbers from 20 to 120. Follow Percy the Sugar Glider as he counts his steps to the bush picnic. You’ll wish you were there.
I’ve also included a few tips at the end.
25 Terrific Ways
to use counting songs with kids
Sing and Step
1. As you sing, take a step for each number. Small step/small voice, large step/loud voice. Climb stairs, walk throughthe house, along the corridor,around the park. Step on numbered spots or chalk marks. Step on the numbered squares as you sing but be on the lookout for numbers out of sequence! Someone might have mixed them up!!
2. Roll out a long strip of paper (tape together pages of newspaper, butcher’s paper, recycled catalogues…) and get a towel ready to wipe dirty feet. Walk through mud or into some paint then see how far in the counting song you can get before the mud/paint disappears. The last number counted matches the number of footprints!
3. Dunk feet into a bucket before walking along a dry path.How many steps in the song can you sing before there are no more watery prints?
4. At the beach, how many steps in the song can you sing before your feet get rushed by wave? How many scoops of sand can you add to your castle before it gets hit by a wave?
5. Kids line up side by side and link hands. Can they move forward in a straight line as they step out each number? Walk backwards for the backwards count.
Sing it loud
6. Nominate a conductor to lead the singing. They will direct the others to sing loud, medium or soft depending on their arm signals. Alternatively, grab some toy animals and label them loud, louder, loudest (better still soft, softer, softest). When the conductor points to the animal, the group must sing accordingly. This is a nice tie in with the language of comparison. You could use big, bigger and biggest toys.
Sing it with fingers
7. With the positive link between finger use and mathematics established, you are helping your learners enormously when you get those fingers dancing their way through the sequence. It’s harder to involve the toes when you’re on the way to 20, so why not join with a partner and use both sets of hands to show fingers to 20?
8. Some children struggle to connect fingers with counting so the more practise the better. Try putting numbered stickers on your child’s fingers (and teen numbers on their toes). One child can point while the other holds up their fingers and toes. Everyone can sing!
Move and Sing
9. While singing, count out objects for each number name. Start by counting objects then images on a page then numbers in a number track. Cars in a car park?
10. Dance a toy along a number track or number path as they sing forwards and backwards.
11. Write the number sequence on a set of pages (one number per page) and tape around the room/outside. Start singing the counting song then stop. Children run to the next number in the song.
12. Lay the numbers on the ground and sing your counting song from beginning to end. Remove one number and sing again. Either stay silent on that number or shout out the missing number. Take away different numbers each time. Alternatively, turn all the numbers over so they cannot be seen and sing while they move from stepping stone to stepping stone (aka number). When the music stops, they have to say the number that is under their feet. Ask them to draw the number in the air before turning it over.
13. Count everything from pegs to pasta, pebbles to petals. When they see you touch a different item for each word, it will help them differentiate units of meaning (words) within the singing string. Encourage them to touch/move only one item per number. Young children will need help with this as they love to point to lots of items as the mood takes them
Flick it Good
14. Line up the target number of objects (marbles, dried beans, bottle caps, small collectible toys you have no use for). As you sing, give each object the flick with your fingers and send it flying. Place a bucket as a target. Extra maths when you can count how many made it in the bucket compared to how many didn’t.
Create a Stir
15. Next time you are baking, use the counting song to count the number of stirs you need to combine all the ingredients. The Counting to 120 Song is great, but hopefully it won’t take that many stirs…if it does, I think you need a Mixmaster.
16. Create a whirlpool in a bowl by stirring the water 20 times as you sing. When it comes to counting/stirring backwards, watch out for the splashes as the water suddenly changes direction.
17. Once you have sung up a speedy whirlpool with all your singing, drop in some torn paper and count how many times it circles the bowl before stopping.
Sing it back
18. Learn the sequences backwards. When I learned French, I thought I’d mastered the numbers to 10 but when the teacher asked me to say them backwards, I stumbled and stopped and started from ‘une’ until I found the number I needed. It was clear I had not mastered the number names. So, I put the backward sequence to a nursery rhyme and sang my way to understanding. Backwards counting challenges a rote learned string of number words, and forces you to truly know your numerals. The song makes it all so much easier. And so much less stressful.
It’s a writeoff
19. When learners know the symbols for each number, set a new challenge. Try writing or typing the numbers as you sing them. This could be very tricky so you might have to dial the tempo down so everyone can finish writing. Slo-mo singing can be quite amusing.
(If they struggle to identify 11,12,13 and 15, watch this)
Skip and Sing
20. Time for some skipping. How far can you skip through the skipping song? (I would not get very far)
21. Can you skip in reverse for the backwards sequence?
22. If skipping is a challenge, try star jumps. hops or spins. Great as a singing brain break.
23. Lay out a set of number cards within easy reach. Sing and say the numbers. Turn a number card over and sing again. Be sure to point at the upside-down card as you sing. Keep turning down cards as you sing until the child can sing and point to every card.
Hike and Sing
24. When your learner is ready to count to 120, get out the hiking gear and sing along to The Count to 120 song before heading bush and counting your own 120 steps. Where will you end up? Pack your own picnic with a handful of toy friends who can celebrate successful counting with you.
Change it Up
25. Listen to the Count to 120 song which shows Percy the sugar glider counting his steps through the bush to the picnic. As you sing the song, change movement styles as each decade passes. So for the 20s step sideways, the 30s crab crawl, 40s giant steps, 50s mini steps, 60s backwards steps, 70s hopping, 80s jumping, 90s lunges, 100s skipping steps, 110s knee raisers.
Pay attention to teen numbers so they hear ‘teen’ clearly. Very often this gets confused with ‘ty’ endings resulting in 13 being confused with 30.
Stick with counting to 10 forwards and backwards until it’s as easy as ABC (or easier). If your learner is ready, count your way to 20. These are hard number names for young ones so don’t be disappointed if they can’t remember them. Just keep the singing about enjoyment…and counting cool things. You are setting up positive associations with numbers and that is one of the best ways you can help your child with mathematics.
Unless your child is super keen to learn, don’t worry about teaching the numerals beyond 10 before they go to kindergarten. They are at the early stage of math development where it is enough to know number names. The rest will come at the next level of learning. In fact, don’t despair if your child hasn’t learned the numerals to 10 before they start school. They will learn all about them in kindergarten. But if they are super keen …. get singing and learning. If they are ready, make sure you are ready! And preschool maths ability is a good indicator of future academic success!
Hopefully this has given you a few ideas that help you teach your children how to count in a fun and engaging way. It’s the start of a complex counting journey that you can have such a positive impact on. Making maths fun and educational is what Spot Maths is all about.