Should preschoolers be counting by tens?

Preschool | Homeschool | Counting by tens
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Preschool is a time for fun, not the preamble to the next 14 years of structured learning.

We know this.

We let our kids play outside, build stuff, ask questions, look at books, and do plenty of other fun things during these sweet little years. We know they’re learning everything they really need to know right now, even without our giving them piles of worksheets and outlined lessons.

Preschool | Homeschool | Counting by tens

But what do we do when our child does happen to take an interest in something that could be classified as more academic? What about when it seems out of order, like we should take a few steps back and talk about some other things before we get to their new interest? What then?

Ladies, we run with it!

Recently my son Ty (3) took a keen interest in counting by tens. We listened to the Barbara Milne (great!) song about counting by tens, and he latched onto it. I don’t know why, but he did. Now he enjoys singing it and even wanted to send a video of himself singing it to his little friend across the sea 🙂

I thought it was fun that he enjoyed the song and the idea struck me that maybe during our “school” time, we could do a few activities that illustrated the counting by tens concept.

This sounds lofty and perhaps it is, considering we are still working on accurately identifying numbers 0-9. But it felt right to jump at the opportunity, to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak.

After all, isn’t this part of what homeschooling is all about?

If you are familiar with unschooling, you know that those who subscribe to that philosophy of education advocate following your child’s lead, giving them opportunities to learn more about their interests. We aren’t unschoolers and never will be for a couple of reasons, but you can’t escape the brilliance and simplicity of this:

There’s no better time to teach your kid than when they want to learn.

As a mom of boys, I think this is particularly important to remember. Little boys give plenty of opportunities for teaching, and really enjoy learning about things, as long as they’re already interested. It’s one of the reasons I foresee a future filled with spontaneous unit studies. I want my boys to love learning, so when I can I need to capitalize on what fascinates them.

And how, you ask, did I capitalize on Ty’s interest in something as silly as a counting by tens song? Like this:

I dug out the Unifix cubes

I say “dug” because currently my school supplies are packed in rather questionable fashion into a large plastic storage tub. I can’t say it makes me very excited to select school time activities, but we’re pre-move at the moment.


I dug out the Unifix cubes and showed Ty that each color row was made up of ten pieces. So when we line the rows up beside each other, we can count each row as 10.

And…he didn’t get it. I’m smiling thinking about it; I really don’t think it made sense to him. He kept trying to count the rows as single units, so three rows of 10 placed side by side was a total of three. When I instructed him to count the rows by 10 he could, but I don’t think he understood why he was doing it.

We played with the number board

This simple activity was a success! All I did was pull out the 10s and have Ty match them to their place on the board. Then I briefly told him that when we count by tens, we skip all the other numbers in-between and get to 100 faster.

Preschool | Homeschool | Counting by tens

Being able to see the numbers he’d been singing about was the goal here. Simple, but beneficial.

He colored

Ty enjoys art (for a few minutes) so all I did was draw the 10s numbers in block style so he could color them in. This was a flop in that he didn’t color the numbers in exactly, he kind of just pretended they weren’t there and scribbled as usual on the paper.

My feelings weren’t hurt. Kid’s 3, let him scribble at will.

So was my attempt to bring new knowledge to life a failure?

Nope! My goal was only to teach Ty about something he was already interested in. He wasn’t ready to learn it yet, and that’s so completely fine.

If anything, this was a very successful test for me. I saw an interest and encouraged it during our structured learning time. In a way it was our first tiny little unit study!

When we pay attention to our child, we will know where to meet them. If their eyes light up when you mention something, if they tell everyone they meet the same fun fact, or if they take to a song like it’s a game, that’s your cue! Drop your lesson plan and go with the flow…it’s a beautiful part of homeschooling.

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