Learning to count is amazingly hard work. These kids can all say, "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!" But it doesn't mean anything. They don't have the connection between the sound and concept of the number. They don't grasp one-to-one correspondence in counting, or connect the symbol of the numeral with the concept of the number.
I asked three children to work with me, but three more immediately joined the group. Three more lurked nearby, but we were already standing room only. Part of the attraction of the sandpaper number work is being sent on finding missions. Each time we trace a number and say the name. We form our fingers to show the number. Two children look for the number in illustrated counting books. One student is sent to find the number on the big number poster in the math center. One goes to get that many smooth, polished stones, and another to get sunflower seeds from the science center. One goes all the way to the writing center to bring back that many colored or striped pencils. Sometimes they are sent on missions to find paper clips, finger puppets, buttons, or dried gourds. These missions are serious work. Somehow the walking and finding helps connect the number and counting in the brain. The kids stay on task, and don't start ricocheting around the classroom, but I'm pulling every trick I've got out of my sleeve to keep the six of them engaged.
Thank heaven for the class rabbit, Norton. He came galumphing over to the group as only a nine pound rabbit can galumph. He just wanted to check out the action as the children were taking turns tracing the sandpaper number 2. I picked up Norton and held him on my lap. When we trace the sandpaper number, we start at the top, I explained. But when we stroke Norton's ears we start at the bottom. Each child got a turn to sit by me and stroke the big bunny's ears, counting slowly, "one, two". For Norton it was just another day on the job as preschool classroom rabbit. For the kids, it was number magic. In six brains they've linked the sandpaper tracing of the number, the slow speaking of "one, two," as they stroked the soft fur along the rabbit's long ears. Maybe next week we can feed him three carrots!© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder