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It's not just as simple as one, two, three ...


Counting is a good preparation for school and can be done in so many exciting ways, right through from two-and-a-half to five years old.

It lends itself to lots of different situations, inside and outside. You really don't have to sit still and chant numbers. The resources you need are everyday objects and you can do counting at the same time as other activities. With the little ones I use number songs and nursery rhymes: Three Blind Mice; One, Two, Three, Four, Five; Five Green Bottles; Five Little Birds, that sort of thing. They learn to sing and to hold up the right number of fingers.

Shopping games are good and so are dice games. You can do a lot with garages and car mats: how many cars are there to be mended; how many red; how many blue.

For quieter ways of counting there are peg boards, mosaics, jigsaws and books, of course. You can use bright pretty things, like buttons, for sorting by shape or colour; putting things in pairs; and matching things. Noah's ark and farm games are good, because the children can group the animals.

Even basic things like building blocks, threading cotton reels and stacking beakers give the idea of size and sequence. The teacher says: the first piece, now the second. Now what comes next?

Cooking introduces the idea of measuring and cutting. We cut up dough and sandwiches, so the children get used to the idea of halves and quarters.

You can introduce counting into collage work too, assembling all the bits and pieces. It's doing one thing while doing another. They're making something lovely at the same time as learning to count.

They love doing charts which are about their lives. So you can ask what fruit they like and do a chart with three children next to a banana, four next to an apple and two next to an orange.

There's no need to stay inside: on seaside trips you can count and sort shells; on a farm outing the children can count the piglets or the sheep in the pen. Like lots of of pre-schools, we have the parachute. It's a large piece of cloth on the ground. Children disappear under it and emerge from it. It's great for number work.

With four and five-year-olds you can sit down with them sometimes and write numbers down. By then they already know a lot about what the numbers mean from all the earlier activities.

We keep parents informed about what we teach. We tell them that counting is exciting as well as educational. The children here already know.

Joan Dixon is leader of Vassall Road Pre-School, Brixton, London

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