Quit Playin: Back2Skool Series—Teach Them to Count!

By Vincent L. Hall

“‘What’s four plus four?’ ‘Jell-O.’ But that ain’t his fault. That’s the mama’s [parents’] fault. Talk to your kid. Talk to him. If you said more words to him than, ‘Mommy [Daddy] be back’… he might know something.” 

—Chris Rock, Bigger & Blacker, 1999

For those who are counting, this is Week Two in the Back2Skool series. We had to interrupt the second installment. Apparently, some leaders at the City of Dallas can’t count the cost of arresting minorities for small amounts of marijuana. Anyway… After you teach your child to pray (Week 1), you must begin what I call “Cognitive Abilities Treatments” (CAT). It starts as early as their aptness to reach and touch. When your babies are young, they should press every elevator button and every light switch. Teaching “cause and effect” is essential, and it should not begin with a belt or switch. (Hint!) Experts believe that by age two, your toddler should be able to count to 10. This exercise is a building block for memory, but by age three or four, you should introduce basic addition and subtraction. My suggestion is to introduce counting as early as 12-18 months, or as they can talk and point. 

Visuals are a must. Age-appropriate toys strewn across the nursery or room are ok, but learning fixtures should be prominent. You can order toys, eating utensils, and flashcards with numbers and illustrations to reinforce your teaching objectives. Every moment is a teachable moment. Although it may be annoying, monotonous, and a distraction from your favorite TV show, your job is to make learning fun. Count to 10, then to 20, and eventually to 100. First forward and then backward. The more you strengthen the memory muscle, the easier it is for your child’s teachers to add new arithmetic concepts. Back in the day, one of the best mathematical devices was circulated by insurance salesmen/women. They would entice your parents to listen to their sales pitch by offering a tri-fold card with multiplication tables from one to 12. 

Back then, Prudential, New York Life, and John Hancock never came to the hood. Obviously, those folks didn’t count our pennies. Atlanta Life, North Carolina Mutual, and a few other debit insurance companies were all we were offered. Later, incorporate games that help your preschoolers count. Hopscotch and Hide and Go Seek (5, 10, 15, 20), and Jacks are no longer in vogue. However, dominoes, cards, and monopoly still develop counting and reasoning skills simultaneously. Educational television is required, and so is your participation. Set aside 30 minutes per day. You won’t forget it because your children won’t let you. Most children would bury that joystick in trade for time with you. COVID-19 lockdown will last for the rest of 2020, make the best of it.

Don’t ever fall for that foolishness that your child can’t learn. I’ve been backroom with “uneducated” brothers huddled around a crap table counting faster than calculators. Making bets, side bets, and calculating the houseman’s cut requires skills! Too many “smart” kids today can’t count change on a dollar. Counting is a lifelong obligation. When you see a sign that says BOGO (buy-one-get-one-free), you should immediately deduce that the merchant is offering you 25 percent off. Counting allows you to make a value determination. Anything less than 40 percent off ain’t a bargain! Teach your children to count objects. Then teach them to count as a member of the human race. If they can’t count, they will always be a subtraction and never count for much. Their failures belong to you!

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.