I’m convinced that listening to skip counting songs is vitally helpful – not the only factor, of course, but a huge help in acquiring number sense and basic facts. I’ll give an example after I explain what skip count songs are.
Skip counting is counting in multiples of a number – 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, etc., or 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, etc.
Skip count songs are catchy tunes containing the skip count sequence of a number. The skip count songs I recommend have different melodies and lyrics for each of the numbers from 2 through 10.
The power of music and songs is well known. Most of us can still remember the A-B-C’s song for the alphabet. Many adults have songs they have memorized from singing or hearing – and can sing along (or recite!) at the drop of a hat. How many of us can hear just the first few opening notes of a song after years of absence – and have the entire song come flooding back into memory? This power of songs on memory is a dynamic connection that can be used to help kids become good at math from an early age. Here are some examples…
Case 1: Our younger son (now 25yo) started listening to the skip count songs at the age of about 15 months. Before he was two years old, he could count to 20 by 2’s. Did this 2-year-old know what he was doing? Of course not – but at least the number-words for this sequencing were in place at an early age. And these skip count sequences were associated with fun and mastery. Several years later when he was ready for school, he had the usual check-up with the kindergarten nurse. After checking his ears and throat, she asked him, “Can you count?”
He said, “How do you want me to count?”
The nurse didn’t understand what he meant (!), and so he said, “Do you want me to count by 7’s or 9’s or 4’s or 8’s or 3’s…?” The nurse’s jaw dropped and she said in amazement, “You can count by 4’s?” He flawlessly sang the 4’s chorus from one of our skip count CD’s – and the nurse said, “I’ll record that he can count.”
Because of the skip count songs, my son associated numbers with fun and music and order and sensibility. From the very beginning for him, math simply made sense – because of the early exposure to skip count songs.
Case 2: Quite a few years ago, I was working with a 7-year-old whose family had both of our skip counting CD’s (The Skip Count Kid and Skip Count Bible Heroes). One day this 7yo told me something – he didn’t ask me – and here follows our dialogue:
• 7yo: 9 times 2 is the same as 2 times 9.
• me: How do you know that?
• 7yo: Because 18 is on both choruses – it’s on the chorus for the 9’s song, and it’s on the chorus for the 2’s song.
• me [holding back my impulse to give a mini-lecture on the commutative property of multiplication]: Does that work for any other pairs of numbers?
• 7yo [after a few moments of thought]: Yes, 7 times 3 is the same as 3 times 7, because 21 is on both choruses.
• me: Are there any other pairs of numbers that works for?
• 7yo: [silence… while pondering the question]
Our session ended before he could say anything else. The next day when I saw him, the very first thing out of his mouth was, “It works for all the pairs of numbers I can think of.” Apparently he had spent a significant amount of time running the skip counting songs through his mind to confirm his own discovery that when multiplying two numbers, it doesn’t matter what order they’re in.
Case 3: My older son (now in his late 20’s) was not even six years old when he started listening to the skip count CD songs. After listening to them for a few weeks, he said to me, “Daddy, I noticed that 12 is on the chorus for the 2’s song, and for the 3’s song, and for the 4’s song. Then it isn’t on the chorus for the 5’s song, but then it is on the chorus for the 6’s song. Then it’s not on any other choruses after that. Daddy, should I be noticing things like that?”
I was floored – here a six year-old was talking in meaningful ways about what he would many years later realize involved vocabulary like factor, divisor, multiples, common multiples,and divisibility. When he told me that the number 12 was on the chorus for the 2’s song and 3’s song, for example, that was a setup for later learning each of the following:
• 12 is a multiple of both 2 and 3
• 12 is a common multiple of 2 and 3
• 12 is divisible by both 2 and 3
• 2 and 3 are factors of 12
• 2 and 3 are divisors of 12
When my young son mentioned this to me, I was thrilled. Rather than laying on him a math lecture about factors and divisors, I instead just grinned a huge smile and said, “I’m proud of you that you notice things like that. Keep it up.” He did, and he went on to do well in math throughout his schooling.