How to Use Counters in Math

Close-up of counter blocks with numbers written on them
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A knowledgeable teacher recognizes that young children learn best when engaged in hands-on activities that allow them to further explore abstract ideas or concepts, especially in math. Counters are an excellent tool that children can use in their attempts to master math skills including counting, adding, subtracting, making patterns and comparing numbers. Although there are commercially made counters that commonly are small round plastic discs or squares, incorporating counters such as dried beans, blocks, buttons or counting bears into math activities can prove to be a simple yet effective teaching strategy.

Early Math Concepts

Counters are helpful in teaching children basic math skills such as counting, sorting and patterning. Provide children with a variety of counters to use for different activities to promote participation and keep them engaged. Give children specific tasks to complete using counters. For example, you can ask children to show you a certain number of counters, to count a group or set of counters, or to group counters by size or color.

Basic Functions

Once children have mastered counting and identifying numbers, you can use counters to help teach skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Start by asking children to find the sum or difference of two numbers using counters to represent the problems. Counters can also be used along with a line of numbers to engage children in "jumping" their counters to specific numbers in the line to solve basic addition and subtraction problems. In the upper primary grades, children can use counters to represent multiplication and division problems by combining and separating groups of different objects.

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