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Rote Counting: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

July 8, 2022


Key Points

  • Rote counting is a memory exercise and all about repetition. Children need to practise counting over and over again until they have committed the correct order to memory.
  • There are a number of fun activities and games you can play that can make rote counting fun… and help embed that important learning.

On this page

What is Rote Counting 

The Importance of Rote Counting

Different Types Of Rote Counting

When Should Toddlers Learn To Count?

How Do You Support Rote Counting at Home?

Tips to Encourage Counting

Supporting your child’s learning


It’s likely something you’ve been doing with your child since they were a baby. What you may not realise is that every time you counted fingers and toes out loud, you were helping to teach an important mathematical skill. That is, how to rote count.

If you want to know more about this important skill, read on as we’re going to cover everything you need to know.

What is Rote Counting?

When a child can remember and recite numbers in the correct order they are rote counting. This can be as simple as 1,2,3 or more advanced sequences such as 2,4,6,8 or even counting backwards. 

As children progress through different stages they will also develop the ability to rote count from a different starting point. For example, you might ask them to count forward from 21. Or count backwards from 16.

Rote learning is all about repetition. Children need to practise counting over and over again until they have committed the correct order to memory.

Gowrie - Rote Counting

Rote Counting vs Rational Counting

Rote counting is a memory exercise. Can the child remember the order of the numbers without using their fingers or other objects to count?

On the other hand, rational counting is when a child is quantifying objects. You might ask them to count objects such as how many pencils are in the pencil tin or how many strawberries are on their plate.

Like rote counting, rational counting still requires the child to know the order of numbers. The difference is that the aim isn’t just to recite the numbers. It’s to work out the total number of objects they're counting.

Is There a Difference Between Rote Counting and One-to-One Correspondence?

If you’ve ever seen a child count any group of objects, you’ll know why one-to-one correspondence is a technique that is used in early education. However, one-to-one correspondence isn’t the same as rote counting.

With one-to-one correspondence, children are taught to assign a number to an object. They can see how many objects there are because each one has a number. This helps them to avoid double counting or missing objects while they’re counting. For example, a child may be counting flower petals. Rather than asking them how many flower petals there are, you might encourage them to count one petal at a time to work out the total number.

The Importance of Rote Counting

Rote counting is the foundation of the maths skills that your child will develop throughout their education. Whether they go on to become a mathematician or not, these skills will serve them well throughout their entire life.

  • Rote counting can help children learn to:
  • Be confident with maths learning and counting.
  • Progress in skills such as addition and subtraction.
  • Understand concepts related to place value and money.
  • Participate more freely in counting activities and games.

Different Types Of Rote Counting

The basic way of rote counting is to count forwards starting at one and working your way up, gradually adding numbers as your child gains confidence. 

But that’s just the beginning with rote counting. When your child has mastered the skill, pick different starting points for them to count from. This helps them to develop their ability to understand the numbers in a different context.

Counting backwards is another type of rote counting. Count backwards from 10 to one. Or Start at a random number and count backwards from there.

The final type of rote counting is counting a sequence, like counting by 2s or 10s.

When Should Toddlers Learn To Count?

Every child develops differently. Just as some learn to read faster than others, the same applies to counting. Below are the general counting milestones but remember that your child may be faster or slower than these.

12 - 24 months 

At this early age, it’s common for children to be able to count to 10. But expect mistakes. There may be missing numbers or repeated numbers or numbers that are completely out of sequence. Rote counting is about repetition and practice. It takes time but all those little mistakes along the way help them to learn.

3 - 4 years (preschool)

The basics should be established by this age and a typical four-year-old will likely be able to proudly count to 10 without needing much of a prompt. They may even be able to go past 10 and count to 20. At this age, children begin to count items such as the number of dots on a dice or the number of chips in their bowl compared to their siblings!

5 years (kindergarten)

All of that work in learning to count starts to pay off when a child starts school. They’re learning addition and then subtraction and confidently able to add up, often by using their fingers.

If you give a five-year-old a set of numbers they should also be able to put them in the correct sequence. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

How Do You Support Rote Counting at Home?

Rote counting might be about repetition but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Quite the opposite in fact! There are a number of fun activities and games you can play that can make rote counting fun… and help embed that important learning.

Silly Voices

All you need for this game is a dice and your imagination. Set the rules. If you roll a 1 on the dice you need to count to 10 in a baby voice. If you roll a 2, use a princess voice instead. Assign a different voice to each number and away you go. Even better if you have props or act out your counting.

If your child is a little further along with learning rote counting, you can also mix the game up a little bit. If they roll a 6, they need to use the funny voice for 6 but also start counting from 6.

It’s supposed to be fun so have fun!

Everyday Items

You would be surprised at how many things you could ask your child to count as your go about your daily life. They could count things like apples as you put them in the bag at the supermarket. Or the blocks they’re using to build a tower. If you have stairs in your home, encourage them to count the stairs as they go up and down. If you’re doing loose parts play that’s another perfect counting opportunity. 

If you encourage these opportunities to count everyday objects, you might even find they take the initiative and discover their own opportunities to practice counting.

Counting Songs

There are so many fun counting songs that you’re probably singing without even realising. 

Here are a just few to get you started:

  • The ants go marching
  • One, two buckle my shoe
  • 1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive
  • Five little ducks
  • There were ten in the bed

    Gowrie - Rote Counting


Did you even realise that hopscotch was a counting game? Well, it is!

Hopscotch is better suited to older toddlers or preschoolers as you do need a level of coordination to manage the jumping.

All you need is a piece of chalk and somewhere to play! Draw the outline and write the numbers inside each box. Then it’s just a matter of counting as you jump from one box to the next.

Hide and Seek 

This is another game that kids love to play but is also a good opportunity to practice rote counting. Rather than counting to five before seeking out the people that are hiding, the rules of your game could be that you have to count backwards from 20. Or that you have to count to 30.

The bigger the number, the longer you have to hide – and possibly get a few moments of quiet in an otherwise busy day.

Counting in the Car

What can you count while you’re in the car? Anything you can see outside the car! It could be trees or white cars or purple flowers.

This can help to avoid those “are we there yet?” questions and also improve counting skills.

Tips to Encourage Counting

The key with rote learning is to make it fun. Sitting in a chair and practising counting to 10 every day isn’t nearly as appealing as playing a game with a silly voice. 

Here are five other tips to help you at home:

  1. Encourage your child as they count to help them develop their confidence. They won’t always get it right but that’s all part of the learning process.
  2. Even if your child can only count to 10, don’t stop there. When it’s your turn, count to 15 or 20 so they start to hear those higher numbers. Children learn so much from listening to and watching their parents.
  3. Introduce counting into everyday life as much as possible. If you see a flower, stop and count the petals together. Or countdown the days to the weekend or a holiday.
  4. Practice different counting skills such as counting backwards or counting from a random number. This will help to embed the learning and challenge your child’s skills.
  5. Sing songs with numbers in them and play games that incorporate numbers. If you’re throwing a ball with your child, count each time you throw the ball back and forth. Every little bit helps!

Supporting your child’s learning

At Gowrie NSW, we believe that every child should be valued for their unique strengths and character. That’s why our parent and family resources are designed to support you as you support your child.

Contact us to discuss our approach to early education and care and how we can help your child to make new discoveries every day.

Topics: Parenting, Education

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