introducing counting collections in Kindergarten

Posted on: October 18th, 2016 by jnovakowski

In the past week I have introduced the routine of Counting Collections to four kindergarten classes at two Richmond schools. Teachers who have tried the routine later in the school year have wondered how to introduce the routine so early in the school year to kindergarten students. Counting Collections is a routine in which students work in partners to count a collection of items. Seems straightforward but this routine has proven to be highly engaging and provides students with lots of time doing and talking about math and also provides teachers with important information about their students’ understanding of number.


In our BC curriculum, the curricular content “learning standard” for kindergarten around counting focuses on fluency with counting and number concepts involving numbers up to and including 10. It may seem like most children are able to count to 10 at this age but we are looking for fluency and understanding beyond reciting a counting chant. We are looking for one-to-one correspondence, sequencing, cardinality when counting, subitizing and more – counting is complex! Early in the year, it is important to provide collections of smaller quantities (5-10) so students can practice counting successfully and teachers can listen in and notice how students are counting and how they are showing what they understand about numbers. Of course, just because our Kindergarten curriculum focuses on number understanding to 10, this doesn’t mean we don’t provide opportunities for students to practice counting collections of more than 10. In the collections I used with the K classes this past week, I had collections ranging from 5-30ish. When we engage in formal assessment and communicating student learning though, we focus on the content learning standard of counting and understanding numbers to 10.

My first visit was to two kindergarten classes at Ferris Elementary. Teachers Lynda Young and Wendy Black invited me into their classrooms after having attended professional learning events where they had heard about counting collections. I was able to introduce the routine to both of their classes and the teachers are collaborating to create bags of items for their students to count.

I began by modelling how to choose a bag and work with a partner (one of the students) to count all of the collection – not sort it by colours first etc, just start counting all of it, hence the hashtag on twitter #countall. We talked about what to do if there seemed to be “too many to count” in the bag and invited students to just take out a “just right” amount (some of the bags had up to 40 items).


We talked about strategies for counting and keeping track of what we had counted – the students suggested putting the items in a line and my partner and I also modelled touching and moving the items as we counted them. These were the most common strategies we observed in the students’ counting.



And off they went…the teachers selected the partnerships for this first go and the students chose their bags and where they were going to count. As most of the students counted by 1s the need for the cups and plates for grouping were not really utilized. Some of the students realized they were helpful tools though to keep track of which items they had counted – moving them from one container to another.


We noticed that some of the students didn’t actually collaborate – they engaged in parallel counting of items side by side. One of the teachers commented that this was the first partner task they had done and it was interesting to watch how different partnerships worked together.

The routine of Counting Collections is always meant to be done in partners – it is developed based on a social-constructivist framework, knowing that learning is a social endeavour. When students co-construct understanding together, it is more likely to become part of the classroom community and discourse as well as is more likely to “stick” with individual children.

We noticed most of the students demonstrated one-to-one correspondence and fluent counting to 10 and some counted fluently well beyond 20. Some students are developing their understanding of the teen numbers (fifteen – why isn’t it five-teen?) and bridging over decades (we overhead one student counting 28, 29 20-10, 20-11…and repeating those, likely knowing they didn’t sound quite right but trying to make sense of what she was doing). Lots of information to inform instruction – to help plan mini-lessons or guided math experiences.

Today, I spent the morning in the two kindergarten classes at General Currie Elementary. Teachers Astra Foisy and Kelly Shuto had used the routine of counting collections later in the year with their kindergarten students and were curious how to begin the routine early in the kindergarten year.

We began the same way as I did with the Ferris classes but also added some wooden numerals for students to “record their count” with if they chose and also had number charts available to support students if they needed to know what number came next.


As in the other kindergarten classrooms, the students practiced counting by 1s and were learning to work collaboratively with a partner, often taking turns in the roles. One student said, “I put, she counts” to describe their process.

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It’s always interesting to watch how students use the grouping containers, especially when they are counting by 1s. When Counting Collections are introduced, part of the experience is exploring the materials – the items in the collections as well as the tools.


Upon reflection with the teachers, I think the hundred charts and other number guides actually inhibited the students from counting (those that chose them) as they spent their time placing items in each box instead of counting – great for one-to-one correspondence but not getting to the fluency we want and not focusing on “counting all”.


So what next for these students? Teachers are creating their own collections and thinking about an appropriate number range for this time of year, students need to continue to develop ways to count with a partner and ways to problem-solve when they don’t know what number comes next. Students can also begin to find ways to record their counts – on a class chart or whiteboard, with the wooden numerals and taking a photo, drawing and labeling in a math journal or on a ┬ápiece of paper on a clipboard. Students need to just keep practicing counting – finding ways to build their own stamina (What could I do next? How could I count these in a different way?) and engagement with counting.


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