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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

Counting and Number Sense: Easy as 1, 2, 3...

Updated: Jan 21

A Note from Amy

Welcome to the start of my series on math! I’m very glad you’re here, especially if you’re someone who cringes at the word “math.” Maybe you grew up memorizing, drilling, and filling out lots of worksheets for math class like I did. Maybe your teacher’s idea of fun was pitting you against a classmate to see who could add numbers faster. Maybe that gave you some baggage around being “good” or “bad” at math.

Math should be - can be - play! Leave your math worksheets and baggage at the door, and let me show you how.

Counting and Number Sense

“Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.”

― mathematician Charles Schlicter

Bottom half of a person in denim shorts and sandals walking on a huge multiplication table written in white chalk paint on a black floor.
Credit: Markus Krisetya, Unsplash

This month I’m focusing on number sense and counting. Number sense does not mean recognizing that this symbol 7 is read aloud as the word “seven.” It means knowing just by looking, without having to count, that 7 buttons is more than 3 buttons. Number sense means knowing how to count up from 1 to 7. It also means knowing one more button makes 8 without counting up from 1 all over again.

Many of my recommendations below are targeted to preschool and kindergarten age kids, but even older kids who are practicing addition and number bonds will benefit from a strong number sense using these resources.

(Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)




From BBC (Netflix or YouTube)

When I was homeschooling, my preschooler learned more from watching Numberblocks than anything else. He couldn't get enough of the music, bright colors, and cheerful voice acting!

The first episode introduces Numberblock One, but soon she discovers a magic mirror that makes another One. And they combine into a new character - Two! Season 1 focuses on numbers 1-5, Season 2 works up to 10. Season 3 starts on bigger numbers and early concepts that will naturally build to multiplication and division in the future!

An episode is just a short 5 minutes - perfect for doling out screen time. I recommend watching the episodes in order, which is a bit easier on Netflix. But here is the Season 1 (also called Red Level One) playlist on YouTube. You can also watch the videos in order using their (paid subscription) app.

from Danny Go! (YouTube)

My kids first discovered the ridiculous dance videos on the Danny Go channel for movement breaks. Then we found this great counting video that combines ridiculous visuals with counting and even a little science. For any kid that is particularly resistant to anything that looks educational, this might be a fun alternative!



By Stuart J. Murphy, illustrated by Cynthia Jabar

This is one of my favorites from the MathStart picture book series. While driving to the beach, Nell and her family play tally games - tallying up all the red cars and green shirts they see. You can make it more interactive by encouraging kid readers to count themselves and figure out who wins each tally game. Even preschoolers who can’t write can learn to make tally marks and play their own tally games at home.

Cover illustration of a crab and a snail together at the beach. The crab is lounging back on a purple beach chair, waving and looking at the reader. The snail is on a striped beach blanket under a striped beach umbrella.

By April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre, illustrated by Randy Cecil

This book combines feet, which are always funny, with counting and early addition concepts. A snail has one foot, people have two feet, and a snail plus a person is three feet. 80 is eight crabs, or ten spiders! Lots of surprising combinations take this book all the way to 100!

Cover illustration of a boy on a bicycle, wearing a yellow helmet, driving by a dump truck, concrete mixer, and fuel tanker lined up on the street.

By Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

This one is for all the kids who love trucks! “One ice-cream truck selling everything sweet breaks down and blocks the middle of our street.” Count along with the little boy on his bike, and then cheer him on as he figures out the perfect solution to get all those trucks un-stuck.



Woman in a white shirt and black pants hopping on one foot on a colorful hopscotch square drawn on a sidewalk right next to a large body of water.
Credit: Jametlene Reskp, Unsplash

Jump, spin, move and count

Combine counting with movement! Sunny days are for hopscotch. Rainy days are for counting down from 10 and then jumping into a pile of pillows. How many times can you bounce a basketball? How many twirls can you do before you get dizzy? Learning to count does take repetition, but there’s no reason for repetition to be boring.

Tiny Polka Dot cards facedown in a pile, showing the grey and white polka-dot pattern on the back. A blue card with red dots in a grid is facing up. A green card with orange dots of varying sizes, scattered randomly, is facing up. A purple card with a bold yellow number “5” is facing up. A game card with the title “Match the Dots” and instructions is facing up.

From Math for Love

There are so many ways to play with these little adorable cards! There are different categories of cards - some have dots in a single color arranged in a grid (the easiest to count), some have dots arranged haphazardly, and some have dots in a mix of colors and sizes (the most challenging to count).

There are multiple games for ages 3-8, and each game can be made more or less complex depending on the category of dot cards you use.

This is not an activity kids can really do on their own, but I find a short game with these cards to be well worth my time! A free printable version is here, but it’s also available for purchase on Amazon.)

Big bubble letters reading “Dragon Box Numbers”, and a child’s finger dragging a cartoon smiling yellow rectangle into a rectangle shape labeled “2”. Other cartoon smiling rectangles in various sizes and designs are off to the side.

From Dragonbox (available for iOS and Android)

All three of my kids have loved this game. The Nooms are colorful little rectangles that you can combine to make bigger rectangles (bigger numbers), or cut into smaller rectangles (smaller numbers). A simple enough concept that gets used in so many fun ways! There’s an arcade-type platform game, a puzzle game, and just a free play sandbox where all my kids would always try to make the tallest stack of Nooms that they could!

Access to the full app does require purchase. I try to only recommend free activities, but I personally found this app to be well worth the price.


If you opened this post feeling a bit skeptical, I hope I’ve convinced you that math can be play!

Next month I’ll be talking about fractions and multiplication for preschoolers (yes preschoolers!) and elementary age kids. I can’t wait!

Until then, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity!

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