In this post, you’ll learn when to teach the different concepts involved in skip counting, why skip counting is effective for young children as a precursor to multiplication, and how to teach skip counting in simple ways to each age group.
By starting with the skip counting songs method & transitioning to conceptual understanding when children have internalized the numbers, you will save your children (and yourself!) a lot of confusion and frustration down the road when it’s time to learn to multiply.
I guarantee following this progression will yield great results:
- Learn short, simple counting songs (as young as ages 3-6)
- Practice skip counting concepts (ages 6-8)
- Multiply!! (If you do the first 2 steps, this will fall into place naturally around age 7-9)
Let’s break those steps down and see what this looks like in every day life!
When to Teach Skip Counting?
As soon as possible! Children as young as 4 or 5 can learn to rote skip count easily with super simple songs. (Here are the songs we created that kids love!)
For this age group, just teach the rote counting with short & simple songs. Learn a set of numbers or two per week.
(You can play them to younger children too, if you want. Just don’t expect that they’ll spout off the numbers correctly. Our kids who heard the songs at ages 1-2 because their older siblings were practicing them definitely learned the songs more easily when they were old enough to pronounce the numbers correctly.)
A child this age will quickly memorize the skip counting songs, and he’ll probably sing them all the time.
Preschoolers & Kindergarteners LOVE to sing the same thing over and over, so getting these songs in their heads is the perfect strategy for long term retention & understanding.
You don’t actually need to “teach” skip counting concepts to a 3-6 year old. There is no need to understand the concepts at first. In fact, developmentally, it’s not really appropriate.
Even a 5-6 year old who can successfully rattle off her 5s while counting nickels is likely doing this from memory, not from a deep conceptual understanding of our monetary system.
Early memorization is a long term strategy. Children ages 4-6 will benefit from the rote counting in the long run! For now, just play the songs & trust the process.
A 6-8 year old who knows his skip counting songs will likely “discover” for himself that things can be counted in groups. The child’s discovery might happen while pairing socks or counting memory match pairs. It might be that you are dishing out 2 cookies per plate and the child realizes he can count them by twos!
You can mention situations like this to your kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade child and see if starts to click. If not, just move on and wait another couple months and mention it again. The understanding will come.
Once the child has the ability to realize things can be counted in 2s or 3s (rather than just 1 at a time), you can start actually teaching and practicing skip counting concepts with the tools at the end of this post.
By 7-9 years old, kids who have been skip counting for a long time will be more than ready to multiply.
If your 7-9 year old has never learned to skip count but already is working on grouping & multiplication in a math curriculum, introduce the songs anyway! The child will likely still pick them up quickly. And using them during equal-grouping math lessons might help the concept stick better.
You can still just teach 1-2 per week and use some of the teaching tips in this post to teach the concepts at the same time.
Why Teach Skip Counting?
Learning to skip count by song will yield TONS of benefits in developing a strong mathematical mind.
If a kindergartener or 1st grader knows how to skip count by song, he will understand how to tell time & count money more easily.
In 2nd grade & 3rd grade, multiplication will make sense to children who know their skip counting inside and out.
Many young students who use the skip-count-song method intuitively understand the concepts of grouping, multiplication, and division as they get older without much confusion.
Conversely, kids who do not know how to skip count often struggle making the conceptual jump from addition & subtraction to multiplication & division. The idea of counting in equal groups feels foreign & complex to them!
Rote memorization has kind of a bad rap these days in popular education methods. But rote skip counting is actually IMMENSELY helpful. And simple!!
Learning to skip count by rote doesn’t limit critical thinking. It lays a solid foundation in order to enhance critical thinking when the child is ready.
How Rote Counting Teaches Critical Thinking in Math
One day, we were sitting around our kitchen table and my 6 year old said, “There are 48 window squares on those windows.”
I replied, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. Were you counting them for a while?”
6 year old: “Nope! I counted by 12s – 12, 24, 36, 48!”
Then, she clarified: “Well, I tried counting by 3s for the little parts but I got to 12 and then they were all 12. So that was faster.”
You see, we’d been singing and memorizing these skip counting songs for over a year.
At some point during a first grade math lesson, she connected some dots by learning about how to trade pennies for dimes and count dimes by 10s. That was the first real hands on skip counting we’d done. She instantly asked, “Well can we count pennies by 3s? 4s? All the other skip counting songs?”
She started noticing groups of objects that could be counted this way everywhere we went.
- The windows near the breakfast table.
- How many slices of bread for the amount of people you’re making a sandwich for.
- How many pizzas if there are 6 people who want 2 slices each and 8 slices per pizza.
- Counting money – nickels (5’s), dimes (10’s), quarters (25’s), bills (various)
At the age of 6, she had a major ‘ah ha’ about grouping, the precursor to multiplication. And I had a major ‘ah ha’ that memorization* really does have benefits for deeper understanding.
*Note: I’m talking about memorization in addition to your math curriculum.
Rote memorization often gets a bad rap as the evil, old-fashioned way of learning. Why memorize it when you can look it up? Why memorize something when you can just learn to “think critically” about things?
The truth is – relying on rote memorization allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the subject as you mature. Imagine a poem or Bible verse that you memorized as a child. If you hear it recited or see it quoted in a book, it jumps off the page… as if an alarm is going off in your mind!
Because something you’ve memorized can come back to provide deeper understanding down the road.
The Progression of Learning to Skip Count
For a 6-8 year old the progression of skip counting is:
learn basic numbers and number sense → skip counting songs → grouping and counting by more than 1 at a time → notice real-life multiplication scenarios → practice grouping in hands on ways → learn that counting equal groups is multiplication …
From there, a child will easily be able to tackle multiplication facts.
That little window counting instance really stuck with me as the ‘proof’ that the memorization thing works. Rote memorization doesn’t limit critical thinking, it enhances thinking.
Memorizing the skip counting songs IS THE VERY THING that led her to start thinking about how groups of objects go together.
How to Teach Skip Counting
As mentioned above, there isn’t much to teaching this age group to skip count. You don’t need to do any activities or extra explaining. The most important math skills for younger students are developing strong number sense, internalizing the ideas of adding more and taking away, counting skills, grouping, patterns, etc.
Side Note – My favorite early years math curriculums are Kate Snow’s Preschool Math at Home, Kindergarten Math with Confidence, Singapore Dimensions Math K, or The Good & the Beautiful Kindergarten Math. Any one of those programs will help younger students develop a strong number sense in a fun way AND help you gain confidence in teaching math.
Just play or sing simple, fun skip counting songs. Make sure the songs only use the numbers you want the child to skip count. Minimal extra lyrics and no recitations of the times tables. We skip count to a multiple of 12, but you could go to 10 or 15 if you want.
The 2s skip counting song would be: 2-4-6-8-10-12-14-16-18-20-22-24
The 3s skip counting song would be: 3-6-9-12-15-18-21-24-27-30-33-36
If you want to make up your own catch song, just think of a familiar tune such as Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and set those numbers to the tune.
You can play them all on repeat (as our 4-year-old in residence frequently requests) or just play 1-2 tracks per week.
If you’re going to focus on a little bit at a time, you might add some song practice time to another routine you already have in your home. For example, play the 2 songs for that week 3 times each when you get in the car. Or 3 times at breakfast, or sing them to your child before rest time and bedtime.
The short & sweet repetition over time works!! Kids memorize so quickly. No need to drill & kill until everyone hates the songs. (Although, somehow, my own 3-6 year olds have never gotten sick of these songs. Haha!)
Use the songs for this age group too!
Then, once your child begins to discover they can count in groups (like my daughter with the windows example), you can start actually teaching the concept of skip counting. Wait until the child is really ready & has started noticing groups of objects. Don’t try these activities with a 4 or 5 year old just because he can rattle off the songs.
It’s ideal if this happens before your kids get to multiplication in 2nd or third grade. But, if your 2nd or 3rd grader has never learned skip counting, you can add it in for 10 minutes a day. They’ll pick it up quickly and it will definitely enhance their conceptual understanding of multiplication and division.
Hands-On Skip Counting First
The child who knows skip counting songs will likely discover how skip counting works through a concrete, hands-on way. The windows, or cookies or pairs of socks.
A child who is working to understand counting in equal groups (as opposed to merely memorizing the numbers to a tune, which he’s already done) needs to work with actual materials and groups of objects.
So, all the initial activities for skip counting should still be hands-on! No hundred charts or multiplication charts yet.
Important Note: In teaching any math skill, it’s always best to move from concrete/ hands-on to pictures then to abstract. This concept is explained well here.
Here are some simple ideas for the hands-on portion of teaching skip counting.
These beads are nice for counting practice because they come all connected. You don’t have to count out 8 counters, 12 times. You can grab a set on Amazon for less than $50! (You could also DIY a version with some plastic beads & pipe cleaners… enlist your kids to help and work on it for 15 minutes a day until you have a set.)
Here’s how you might introduce the beads & skip counting to a child who has figured out you can count equal groups with skip counting, but needs more practice.
- Start with the twos.
- Count each green bead and let the child realize that each one has 2.
- Put 3 sets of green beads and count each bead, emphasizing the even numbers: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”
- Explain: “Since each green set has 2 beads, we can count them by 2s. 2, 4, 6.” Pull out one at a time to add on to the line and keep going up to 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24.
- Add the small, pointy number cards in between each set. You can even just cut narrow strips of paper or tiny squares.
- Have the child try it for 3s or 4s next.
- You can skip the number cards sometimes.
Equal Groups in Circles
This one is a great visual! Draw 12 circles on a piece of paper. Explain these are plates and we’re going to divide our “cookies” equally among all the plates. You can also use actual paper plates.)
(We like the translucent counters pictured below for “cookies.” Or you can use m&ms, chocolate chips, cheerios, dried beans, legos or any other sort of small countable object that will fit in the circles.)
Placing 1 counter in each circle, you’d say something like, “We’ll count the ones we put down 1 at a time. 1-2-3-4…12. But now, we’re going to add another cookie to each plate. (Let the child add one more to each circle. Do not count while he’s placing them on.)
Ask: “How many on are each plate?”
Parent: “Right! So instead of counting 1,2, – 3,4, – 5,6, – 7,8 one at a time, we can count 2 at a time… 2, 4, 6, 8.” (Point and count slowly, ideally singing the skip counting song. That helps the child make the connection between the song numbers & the concrete example.) As you finish counting, you can ask, “So when we put 2 cookies on 12 different plates, how many do all the plates have together?” (24.)
Try these additional questions too:
- What if there are only 3 plates with 2 cookies each? (Have the child empty all but 3 plates and count by 2s. to get to 6.)
- What if there are only 5 plates with 2 cookies each?
- What if there are 7 plates with 2 cookies each?
Then you can repeat the same thing but skip-counting by 3s. Have the child put 3 counters each in each plate. Ask: “When we put 2 cookies on each plate, we counted by 2s. Now there are 3 cookies on each plate. What should we count by?”
Lead the child through singing the skip-counting 3s song while pointing to the plates. Again, point out that when we fill all 12 plates with 3 each, there are 36 cookies total!
Go through the same process above with trying different numbers of plates. (How many cookies all together if we fill 7 plates with 3 cookies each? How many cookies all together if we fill 4 plates with 3 cookies each?)
Using hands-on, countable objects in clearly defined groups (inside the circles) is important for helping the concept of skip counting equal groups make sense.
BONUS – gather everyone in your family and count (by 5s) to get the total number of fingers and toes. Have everyone line up and have the person whose phalanges are being counted wave or stomp slowly and count all together. Our 6-7 year olds love doing this.
Picture Books about Skip Counting
There are several great books about skip counting. Again, I’d mostly use these with kids after they’ve learned several of the skip counting songs, and after some hands on practice with the 2 activities above.
Of course, you read these picture books for fun to younger children who don’t quite understand counting in groups yet! Children of all ages will enjoy them. But the books will be a valuable addition to your math curriculum & reinforce skip counting concepts after the child has already had practice with the hands-on activities above.
You can see the entire collection on my Amazon List here! (I like checking Thrift Books for used copies too.)
- Arctic Fives Arrive
- Two of Everything
- Corkscrew Counts: A Story About Multiplication
- How Do You Count a Dozen Ducklings
- Two Ways to Count to Ten
- Spunky Monkeys on Parade
- Count on Pablo
- Remainder of One
- One Hundred Angry Ants
- Lots of LadyBugs
- How Many Feet in the Bed?
- The Grapes of Math
- Each Orange has 8 Slices
Skip Counting on the Number Line
After a child has grasped skip counting with concrete objects & with pictures, you can move to skip counting the numbers on number lines, graphs, hundreds chart, etc.
You can write few number lines 1-40 on a dry erase board, chalkboard, or paper. Demonstrate counting by 1s up to 12 on the number line & point. Perhaps, highlight each number that you count individually.
Then demonstrate counting by 2s & how you skip over each number. 2-4-6-8-10 etc. Up to 24. Explain that you could keep counting by 2s as high as you want, but our songs only go up to 24, which is 12 groups of 2. Have the child highlight or circle the next number until you get up to 24.
Demonstrate the same thing with 3s. Let the child observe that you skip to the 3rd number away.
Try to line up the numbers so the child can easily see how much further down the number line you get if you count by 3 rather than 2. Also the child might observe that certain numbers are in both counting groups… for example, 12, 18, and 24 are in the 2s and 3s.
You could add a new number line each day (although you’ll have to go farther than 40)!
You can also just type out the numbers 1-150 on your computer and print it out. Then cut the paper into strips and tape it together. (Better yet, find a child ages 6-9 to cut and tape them together in the right order.) This is kind of fun for the bigger skip counting numbers (counting by 5-12) because it makes really long number lines.
A laminated hundreds chart will go a LONG way in your homeschool math classroom. We use ours on a regular basis at many grade levels. Your child can use it as an easy way to practice counting consecutive numbers, finding specific numbers, counting by 10s starting on any number, counting odd numbers, identifying the next number in a number sequence, etc.
Here’s a free one hundred chart to print if you don’t have one yet. I’d recommend laminating it, or printing it on cardstock & tucking it in a dry erase pocket. (You could also print a blank 10×10 grid & let your child make his own chart.)
With a hundreds chart, you can do the same activities you did on a number line. We keep ours in a dry erase pocket & color the squares with dry erase markers when practicing skip counting. Such a useful tool for skip counting.
One time, I printed off several of these mini 100 chart papers & my 3rd grade math student colored each one skip counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, etc. (as high as she could go on the hundred chart) to reveal interesting number patterns. This would be a great way to occupy kids during math centers if you’re teaching multiple ages or in a classroom setting.
Missing Numbers Activity
If you have a wooden number tiles hundreds board, you can pull all the tiles off and have the child try to fill in only the numbers for one of the skip counting songs.
Bonus – you can use one of these hundred boards (or a printed one) for all kinds of simple math games. Here are a bunch of fun ideas!
You can also write the skip counting numbers out for whatever number you’re working on and leave some blanks for the child to fill in like so:
- 4, 8, ________, 16, 20, ________, 32, 36, _________, 44, ___________
- 5, 10, 15, ________, _________, ________, _______, _______, _________
This is probably the most abstract on the list, so save this one for kids who are starting to learn arrays & multiplication concepts. Typically, this activity would work for a child who has started learning some basic multiplication facts.
Show your child how to build their own multiplication table!
- Print a blank grid that’s 12×12.
- Tell the child to fill in across the top row & down the far left column 1-12.
- Fill in across the 2s first.
- Next, fill in downward from 2.
- Point out how if you go to the 2×2 box, you see the number 4! 2×2 = 4 and there are 4 boxes inside that area.
- Have the child keep going, singing the songs each time as they fill in the numbers.
- Find various arrays once the child is finished. Ask questions like, “How are 6×9 and 9×6 similar and different?”
The idea that 6 groups of 9 equals 9 groups of 6 is called the commutative property. (We have songs coming for that too!)
If you sit nearby while the child works independently, this activity will likely lead to some conversation as they discover interesting patterns and how the skip counting songs make the whole multiplication table work together.
This post really focused on the when, why & how behind teaching skip counting. Head over to this article for many more simple skip counting activities!! There are tons of ideas including zero-prep, hands-on, cute mazes, dot to dots, and more.