how to teach skip-counting

How Well Does Your Child Skip-Count?

If your child understands the 0-9 pattern and can say every number correctly in order up to about 120 he’s ready to start or improve skip-counting by twos.

Check his skip-counting forwards by twos

Ask him how far he can skip-count forwards by twos. If he asks you whether you mean on odd or even numbers, celebrate…you have a child in a million! Most kids will automatically assume you mean skip-count starting from 0 or 2.

If your child says ‘I can skip-count by twos up to 50′ ask, ‘Where would you like to start from?’

The answer is likely to be ’0′ or ’2′. Say ‘Ok, you start and we’ll take turns to say the numbers’.

(Child says 0, you say 2, child says 4, you say 6 etc)

Watch to see how much effort your child has to put in. Stop if/when it becomes a struggle or he gets it wrong. It’s a red flag for ‘Work needs to be done here’. Accuracy in Maths is crucial and that’s a message to get across at an early age.

If you get a red flag you’ll need to go back to where it was easy and move forwards slowly from there (one or two numbers at a time).

Here’s what to do:

Draw up a chart like this, find two coloured pencils of the same colour and some counters (pasta or pegs or anything will do).

 0

 1

 2

 3

 4

 5

 6

 7

 8

 9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

49

Ask your child to take turns with you to skipcount by twos again, but this time be specific about how far…only up to where he CAN do it. Say ‘up to 14′ or wherever you saw the red flag.

Explain that, as you count this time, you’ll each add two counters to make a matching collection on the table in front of you, and you’ll also point to the chart and colour your square. Then, when you reach the target number, you each continue doing the same thing for one more step.

In the example below, the child knew up to 14 so Person A added two more pegs for 16, coloured in 16 and said it, and Person B added two more counters for 18, coloured in 18 and said it.

16 and 18 are now the ‘challenge’ numbers.

 0

 1

 2

 3

 4

 5

 6

 7

 8

 9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

49

Now take turns with your child to skipcount from 0 up to 18 looking at the chart. Then ask your child to practise by himself and say that tomorrow you’ll do it again with him and see if he needs the chart.

You are guaranteed to get a good result because you’re building on from what he already knows. Keep building on in a similar way over time to increase his scope.

If your child’s red flag is much higher it’s better to start about 10 or 12 numbers below rather than go back to 0 each time you practise.

Check skip-counting backwards by twos

Your child won’t be able to do this unless he can count backwards by ones. Expect to work with lower numbers when skip-counting backwards because, even though it is just as important, this skill is generally less developed because it’s less practised. Start with 20 and see if he can take turns with you to go back to 0.

Over time, work his starting point higher and higher, a couple of numbers at a time.

What to do next

Skip-counting by twos on odd numbers (1,3,5,7 etc) …forwards and backwards.

Skip-counting by tens (0,10, 20, 30 etc) …forwards and backwards.

If he can do this start at 1 (1, 11, 21, 31, 41 etc) or 2 (2, 12, 22, 32 etc) or any number.

Skip-counting by fives (0, 5,10,15 etc) …forwards and backwards.

If he can do this start at 1 (1, 6, 11, 16, 21 etc) or 2 (2, 7, 12, 17, 22 etc) or any number.

By giving lots of practice in skip-counting ‘outside the norm’ like this your child builds up a great understanding of number patterns, one of the essential concepts in Maths. It also helps with learning multiplication tables a bit later.

The key to making skip-counting practice fun is the turn-taking. It’s also fun to involve another adult or child occasionally.


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