Children may learn to count, say, to ten at a very young age, which is a wonderful skill to have. They have memorized the numbers in the proper order, and can recite them reliably. Memorization is also a valuable skill. This counting they do is much like learning a song. They learn the proper sounds to make in the proper order. But does the counting have meaning to the child?
Often times, not at first. Learning one-to-one correspondence is a bit trickier.
But what is one-to-one correspondence?
One-to-one correspondence means that we understand one number represents one object. This is something that adults–and even older children–can take for granted. A child who does not yet understand one-to-one correspondence may keep counting past the number of objects that are actually there, or may point to objects faster or slower than they are counting. For example, if there are four apples, the child may know to count the apples, but may not understand that each apple equals “one.” They may point to the apples and count “one, two, three, four, (then back to the first apple or in a different pattern), five, six…” But, wait. There were only four apples.
So how do we teach this one-to-one correspondence to our preschoolers?
At Square Roots Preschool, we take a hands-on approach, making sure students count by touching, and we help them, sometimes by guiding their fingers and helping them adjust the pace of their counting to correspond to the objects in front of them. We do this throughout the day here and there, and we also have a specific time each day that we work on this concept during circle time. Each week, we focus on a number. We count to that number and point to corresponding objects in English and in Spanish. We point to the days on the calendar as we talk about the date, counting each one as we go. We point to tally marks and stickers. We also place objects in compartments to better illustrate how each number is its own. In art, we can use paint dotters to count. The variety of objects helps keep things fun for the students.