Rote Counting - Toddler Math

My toddler is counting!

Hearing our little ones count for the first time, initially to 3, then 5 and later 10, is one of the first “academic achievements”, we as parents get excited about. We phone grandma so she can hear them count, we record videos and share it with friends and perhaps post it on our social media pages. We’re overjoyed and exceptionally proud of them for being so clever, yet so emotional to know that they’re growing up so quickly. No more baby babbling after this.

Rote couting

However, the next time you play blocks with your toddler and you’re encouraging him to count each block, he stares back at you with two big eyes and a blank expression. During your next mommy and me cooking session, you ask him to get you TWO tomatoes, but the expression remains…blank. What happened?! This kid was showing off and counting to 10 just this morning when you had a friend over. Now he looks at you like you’re speaking a foreign language. That is because to him, you are.

You see, little Jimmy here has no knowledge of what numbers are or what they mean. What he was doing is called Rote Counting.

What is Rote Counting?

Rote counting is him simply saying the numbers in the order he’s learnt it, but it has absolutely no meaning to him. To him, they are just words and basically the same as learning songs or rhymes. Think about you, yourself having to learn a song in a foreign language that you are not familiar with. You can keep the tune and sing the words, but you have no clue what any of it means. For that you’ll need a language lesson all on its own. That is exactly what he is doing. Repeating the words (numbers) in the order he was taught.

Rote Counting - Toddler Math

Does Rote Counting serve any purpose at all?


Learning the order of numbers, just as with learning rhymes, songs and short stories, builds memory.  It will also later help them to identify when something is “out of place”. For example: Your child has learnt and memorized to count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5”, they are certain that, that is the correct order in which the numbers follow.
If you then count out loud “1, 2, 5…” they will immediately stop you, to tell you that you’re doing it wrong! They’ve recognized that you’re going against what they know to be true and it will make them uncomfortable. This is when you know they’re confident with their rote counting.

This also gives them a terrific foundation to work from when later, they have to work with higher numbers. Having to visualize 42, 43 or 44 objects, might be a bit of a stretch for a young child’s mind, but following the “pattern of Rote Counting” and knowing “after 2 comes 3, after 3 comes 4”. Thus after 42 comes 43, after 43 comes 44 etc. they will be able to comfortably analyze the higher numbers internally to make the correct mathematical conclusions.

Rote Counting Number value and recognition

What is the next step?

If your child is comfortable with Rote Counting, but you’d like them to expand on their understanding of numbers and the fact that each has a value, our Number Recognition and Value Activities are a good place to start.
We have activities for teeny tiny toddlers to primary school age and we’re regularly expanding and adding to our collection. If you’re looking for an easy printable so you can just put your activity together at home, you can view and purchase them here on our Teach Me Mama! Facebook page where each printable is a mere R5.

You could of course go completely DIY and make it yourself. Most of these are very simple to put together using recyclables and things you have lying around your home. If you can’t figure it out on your own, keep checking back for instructional videos on how to make your own learning activities on a zero to low budget at home.

Check out this Colour Sorting Activity for toddlers, made from recycled toilet rolls.

Colour Sorting activity 5 minute craft

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