Use these counting activities with first graders to help kids master counting up to 100; count backwards from 100; count by 2s, 5s or 10s; and use ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, etc).

Counting on FingersMissing Numbers: For this activity, you will need a hundreds chart and some way of covering the numbers, such as white-out or tape. Cover about 12 random numbers and have the child figure out what numbers go in those spaces. Each day, cover a few more numbers until the chart is mostly covered. What strategies do the children use to figure out what numbers should go where?

Number Card Match: Put out a bunch of things to count with such as rocks, large beads, plastic teddy bears, small blocks, etc. Print out number cards with the numbers you want kids to practice (start with numbers 0-20 and go higher as children progress). To play, draw a number and take that many counters. Children can play in pairs and take turns. (Have more advanced children draw two cards and add them together to find out how many counters to take.)

Seeing 10s: Print number cards with numbers 10-50 (not all numbers in that range need to be represented). Give kids linking cubes to make that number. Their linking cube trains can be made with whatever colors they want, but they need to put a black cube on the 10’s–10, 20, 30, 40 or 50. Extend the activity by having kids tell each other numbers to make, and marking the 10s place with the black blocks.

How Fast? How fast can kids count up to 100? Have them time each other with a timer and see how far they can get before the sand runs out.

Team Writing: Have teams of 10 work together to write the numbers up to 100. Give each child a different color pen and a numeral between 0-9 that is “theirs”. They will write their numeral in that color every time it is needed. For example, if the “2” child has a red marker, and the “8” child has a blue marker, then to write 28, one child will write “2” in red and the other will write the “8” in blue. This game is deceptively simple, but actually requires some good teamwork and strengthens kids’ understanding of place value, as well as counting skills.

Hundreds Chart Puzzle: Stock up on hundreds charts, because there are lots of great counting activities that use this tool. For this one, copy a hundreds chart for each child on thick card stock. Have kids cut along the lines to separate the hundreds chart into puzzle-like pieces. Put the pieces in an envelope and trade with another child, then put the puzzles together.

100 Trail Mix: Make trail mix from cheerios, cereal, small pretzels, chocolate chips, and other small food items, using 100 pieces of each ingredient.

This can be a frustrating skill to learn, so offer plenty of motivating counting activities to give practice counting backwards.

Backwards Hundreds Chart: Have kids choose between 10 and 30 bingo-type markers and use them to cover various numbers on a hundreds chart. Then let a partner start at 100 and try to read the numbers backwards, including the covered ones. This is a good way to introduce backwards counting, and it is more fun trying to “trick” a friend than simply reading your own chart. As kids get better, have them gradually cover more numbers.

Backwards Snack: You will need dry cereal of some kind that your child likes. Decide how many pieces of cereal he can eat. Have him count out the cereal pieces and put them on his plate, starting from 1 and counting up. When eating them, he counts backwards until the cereal is gone.

Counting StepsUp and Down Steps: If you happen to live near a place that has steps, take advantage of this counting activity. As you go up the steps, count up. As you go down the steps, count backwards. If it is a short series of steps, such as at a school, kids can race up the steps and down again, counting quickly up and down to match their steps, for as long as they can keep it up!

Backwards Jump Rope: How many times can your child jump rope? Have them guess a number, such as 20 times. Then she will start to skip rope, counting from 20 down to 1, and try to make it the whole way without stopping. As kids get better at jumping (and counting backwards), they can scoot the number higher and try to reach their new goal.

Hundreds Chart Skip Count: When first learning to skip count, color in the numbers on a hundreds chart (for example: color in 2, 4, 6, etc to 100). Notice the patterns. Read the colored in numbers out loud as a first step to verbal skip counting.

Each basket scores two points. Whether you play a game of traditional basketball or a simpler variation of your own, keeping score in 2s is good practice and quite motivating.

Skip Count ShoesHow Many Shoes in the House? A great activity for a rainy day, challenge your child to count all the shoes in the house. Line up all of the shoes and count by 2s to see how many are in the whole house. Count the shoes of individual people to see how many they have. Count how many white shoes, how many tennis shoes, how many high heeled shoes. When kids are done counting, have them return the shoes to the correct closets.

Skip Rope Chants: Chants and rhymes are a great way to learn skip counting, and jump rope rhymes get kids’ whole bodies involved.

Count by 2s, 5s, or 10s and go as high as you can.

“Skip count, skip count, count by 2s. You have two eyes, I have two shoes. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10…” (and on up as high as you can go).

“When I’m in a hurry, to count up something long, I skip some of the numbers, and I sing this song. Two, four, six, eight, who’s on time and who is late? Ten, twelve, fourteen sixteen, We’ve still got some people missing. Eighteen, twenty, twenty two, twenty four, Here’s more coming in the door. Twenty six, twenty eight, here comes thirty. We’re all here, let’s start the party!”

Counting Money: In one of the most natural counting activities, give first graders a pile of coins for them to count. Count the pennies by ones, nickels by 5s, and dimes by 10s (or the equivalent coins in other countries). They will naturally be inclined to want to go higher than 100!

If you happen to have a big jar full of pennies, challenge kids to count them in different ways. Arrange pennies in piles of 2, 5 or 10 and count them accordingly. Which way lets them count the pennies the fastest? And keep those pennies handy; they are useful for all kinds of addition, subtraction, and counting activities.

Try these counting activities to practice using “first, second, third,” and so on in natural contexts.

Waiting in LineFive in a Line: Ask 5 children to stand in a line in front of the class. As you point to each one, have them identify their position: first, second, third, fourth, or fifth. Ask the class questions about the kids who are in line. Which kids are girls (the second and the fifth). Which one is the tallest? Which have brown hair? Which children are wearing blue? The audience will enjoy coming up with new questions for the class. Switch out the children who are in front to mix things up.

Food in a Line: If you don’t have a whole classroom of kids at your disposal, rummage in your kitchen and find some food items: possibly an apple, a pretzel, a piece of candy, a banana, and a piece of bread. Any food will do, as long as they can be lined up individually and are all a bit different. Ask which food items come first, second, etc. Ask questions about the food: which one is healthiest? Which is saltiest? Which is biggest?

Who is First? Play ordinary board games with your kids that make it easy to see who is coming in first. Talk about “what place” each player is in at various points throughout the game. (This is most helpful for math practice if there are 3 or more people playing.)

Some of the best counting activities are quite simple. You will likely think of others that are even easier, or your children will do them spontaneously. Do not feel constrained to use “official” counters or materials; counting unusual objects is a great way to build interest and motivation. Knitters, let your kids count balls of yarn. Tinkerers, let kids count nuts and bolts. A child’s toy box offers countless (heh heh) opportunities for counting activities.

You might also be interested in the related articles Counting to 100 and Math Counters.

For more counting fun, we recommend the Hot Dots Jr. Cards, Zingo 1-2-3, and Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100.