Creating a Genius Baby: Teaching Your Toddler to Count

Imagine the richness of the conversation between you and your toddler if numbers can be involved. It's common at my house, for example, to get the children involved in preparing dinner. Our youngest, at 21 months, can contribute by himself in precious few areas, but he can find and carry things.

Since he knows numbers we can tell him, "Grasshopper, time to set the table. Get the plates for mommy. Bring four plates." He excitedly opens the low cupboard where the plastic plates are kept, counts and pulls out the plates, and carries them to the table. He turns to us with a giant smile, proud to have accomplished such a responsible task without any help.

This article will help you teach your child to count as early and as quickly as possible. We won't learn to recognize or write numbers, but we want the child to be able to tell you how many of some object there are.

Pre-requisites: Your child must be able to reproduce the sounds of the numbers.

Goals: Your child will be able to count up to three objects.

Numbers are very worthwhile among a child's first words. They learn the usual useful words around the house: mama, dada, milk, food, ball, play, more, shoes. Around twenty or thirty words and it should be time to start them on counting if you haven't already.

Depending on how young your child is, this goal can be accomplished in just a few days. If your child can't speak at all, then they will obviously not be able to count anything using words. However, if they can approximate the number sounds then they'll be counting very quickly.

The Method:

Step 1 - Count While Your Child Watches

Whenever you see three or fewer objects, ask your child how many there are, and then count them. Make it a fun but casual game, with lots of repetition. On a half hour walk, my son and I would count things every minute or two, so 15 to 30 times. In a day you can easily repeat maybe 100 times without the child getting bored or frustrated. Be sensitive and stop when the child stops having fun.

The opportunities to count things are endless; just make sure you can distinguish between the objects you are counting. There is no sense counting three tiny birds right beside each other high in the sky because Grasshopper wouldn't be able to tell that you are counting first one bird then another, then the third.


Some helpful keys to make it go more quickly is to always use your child's name at the beginning of the question and always ask the same question. Say, "Grasshopper! How many cars?" "Grasshopper! How many doors?" "Grasshopper! How many flowers?" Don't lengthen the process by varying your structure.

"Can you count the flowers?"

"Tell me how many flowers there are."

"Let's count all those flowers."

Are all totally different to a one or two year old. It's fine to use a lot of variety when "just chatting" with young Grasshopper, but it will slow down the progress of counting.

Step 2 - Count Along With Your Child Don't be worried at first if your child doesn't repeat. Just get them used to the connection between the question "How many?", and counting things 1,2,3. Probably your child will repeat the counting with you after a few tries, but if not then tell him to count along.

"Grasshopper, say One".

Count together and slowly, saying the numbers together at the same time. Be sure to use a lot positive reinforcement, hugs and kisses, when he joins in.

After he's doing it every time, give Grasshopper the slip. Slowly reduce the hugs and kisses from each time to every once in a while, maybe after he counts five times in a row. He knows how to count so it isn't worth a special reward anymore. Count together and if he stops counting with you, which he probably won't, correct him lightly, "Grasshopper, you forgot to count with me. Again. Grasshopper, how many flowers?" If you correct him, make sure he knows it's a correction. Change your tone from the fun game-playing tone to a tone that lets him know he broke the game. Some parents can't correct a child without feeling badly, or they correct him but are so nice that, in the child's eyes, it looks like something good that they should try to achieve again. Don't do that, it will slow down what you're trying to teach.

Step 3 - Let Your Child Say The Numbers Alone

When he is reliably counting to three along with you, then leave him to try on his own. You start by coming in late on the count.

"Grasshopper, how many flowers?"

You point to the first flower, but instead of counting at the same time, just point to see if Grasshopper says "One" on his own. If he does it bring out the hugs and kisses, then continue on.

If he doesn't, just come in after a pause, saying "One." And then move on to point at the second flower, again pausing the same way, inviting Grasshopper to say "Two" on his own.

Lots of positive reinforcement will get him saying the words all by himself without many tries. He already knows the words and he already knows what is expected, the only connection we're making is that he should say the words even if you don't.

Step 4 - Let Your Child Touch Objects While You Count

Now Grasshopper is reliably counting as you point. Let's up the ante again. We want him to touch an object as he counts it.

You need to gather three ordinary small objects that he can touch, like spoons. Sit together and lay the objects out where both of you can touch them, then ask the question, "Grasshopper, How many spoons?" Count like in Step 1, overacting by sticking your finger way out and using big arm motions, "One, Two, Three." You're hoping that Grasshopper imitates you as you count, and if he does, hugs and kisses.

If he doesn't imitate after a few tries, hide two of the objects so that only one remains. Count "One", big overacting arm motion. "One", big overacting arm motion. "One", big overacting arm motion. If he's not trying to touch the spoon then move his arm with yours as you count. At some point, he will touch the spoon, which is when you reward him.

When he touches the spoon reliably, repeat what we did with the words in Step 3 to get him to touch the spoons while you count. That is, you count and make your movements smaller, just pointing to the spoon at first, then just waiting for Grasshopper to touch it. Again, speed up the process by correcting him when he doesn't do it.

Step 5 - Your Child Counts All By Himself

This is the finale. Ask Grasshopper, "Grasshopper, how many spoons?" Then just let him do the whole thing by himself. You probably won't have to actually do this step because your child will probably just naturally do this along with step 4.


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