Tag Archives: counting

Real Arabic numbers

Although our Western system of numbers is sometimes called “Arabic numbers” to distinguish from Roman numerals, in the Arabic language the numbers are written like this.  In the picture the numbers from 1 through 6 are on top from right to left (the way Arabic is written) and 7 through 10 are on the bottom.  This is actually a repurposed ice cube tray and will be used for number games.

This idea was adapted from A Muslim Child is Born, whose thoughtful and informative posts have terrific ideas for everyone.


The Arabs brought the numbers from India and introduced the zero symbol, which was a huge advance in thinking, simplifying math and making arithmetic possible for everyone.  With Roman numerals anything more sophisticated than using them for counting or labeling must have been the province of the super smart.  Quick, what’s XX minus VII?  Why XIII of course!  Dr. Jim Al-Khalili explains it all much better than I can in Science & Islam, which you can watch here:

Currently I’m working on matching as pre-counting, particularly five because it’s useful to understand that everyone has the same number of fingers.  So whenever we read Curious George and the Dump Truck, we put a finger on each of the five ducklings.


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Anno’s Counting House

We’ve read our share of board books that purport to teach counting, and loved some of them.  A personal favourite of mine is One Ted Falls Out of Bed, by Julia Donaldson.  But counting can quickly become a rote recitation of random numbers, “one, two, three, twelve, five …”

Far more important that a child learns to understand mathematical concepts.  Lining up plastic farm animals in a line or a row is a pre-math activity.  But it does have to come from the child and his interests.  A two year old who realizes that if she sits on the chair next to her usual chair, Mamma and Baba can move round one spot, but Grandma will be left with nothing on her side of the table to sit on, is starting to understand basic math.

My theory is that much of the math anxiety in adults is caused by rote drilling, whether it was the seven times table of my generation or the math facts of my adult children’s.

I remember in second grade remembering that six plus six makes twelve but nevertheless counting in case it had changed since the last time I had to do that sum.  A friend recalled obsessively counting people’s fingers to be sure that they had five.

By fourth grade we were multiplying hundreds by hundreds, yet many children did not have a clear concept of how long a foot was or how heavy a pound was.

How much better to learn from experience and get thoroughly familiar with basic operations in a practical way.  If 12 people are coming to the party and they each want two slices of pizza, how many pizzas do we order?  How many servings in a gallon of ice cream?

Click here http://www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org/birthbios/brthpage/03mar/3-20anno.html for more information about Anno.

Anno’s Counting House can teach addition, subtraction, odd and even numbers, position, changes over time, etc.  Of course the child’s age factors into this too.  The introduction is written for children and there is a note to parents and other adults at the end.

The resident almost three-year-old enjoyed the windows and noticing the things they were moving from one house to the other.  It gave my brain a workout as I decided we would name the children, so I had to remember the names and pay close attention to what each child is wearing — something that comes far more naturally to kids than to adults!  Far more engaging than reading a story with words.

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