Counting

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A huge breakthrough today – after years and years of trying, Henry finally seems to understand the question ‘how many?’ He’s been able to recognise numbers 1-10 for a couple of years, can tell you how many fingers you’re holding up (thanks to all those ducks, frogs, monkeys and green bottles), but has never been able to relate this to actual counting. The concept of numbers, ‘the twoness of two’, just seemed beyond his grasp.

The breakthrough has come courtesy of a kit called Numicon, a system which uses hollow pegs on a baseboard, as shown in the photos above. We did try Numicon a year or so ago, at home and at school, with little success, but this time he has been keen to use it and results have been rapid. We started by getting him to recognise the base shapes 1 to 4, in order and given randomly, then moved on to putting the pegs in the holes, and finally to balancing marbles on the top of the pegs, counting all the time. This morning I tried holding the marbles in the palm of my hand, very close to their matching peg shape – Henry had no trouble saying how many there were, but as he has excellent pattern recognition I still felt that he had possibly learnt the shapes rather than really understanding the numbers, the same way that he’s learnt that a certain pattern of fingers is called ‘eight’, without actually counting them. But tonight before bed I was putting the box of marbles away and had a sudden impulse to see how much he understood. I put first one, then four, then three marbles in my hand and asked him ‘how many marbles?’. He got it right every time.

Of course, there’s no guarantee he will be able to generalise this knowledge. If I put three spoons on the table tomorrow, he may still be unable to tell me how many are there. But it feels like an enormous leap forward and one that I had been thinking he might never make.

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