When your kindergarten and first grade students practice counting by 1’s in your classrooms, how far is far enough?

Public and private school elementary teachers as well as administrators invariably celebrate the milestone of 100 in several ways. The ever present 100 number charts we use as a visual aide in our schools as well as the 100th school day for kindergarteners is celebrated as one of the most important days of the school year. Classroom teachers have special activities that center around the number 100, too.

One such activity, with teacher assistance, is when primary students list 100 things they have learned during the year both in and out of school. Whatever the case, the number 100 is a common milestone in many elementary schools - and for good reason. It is the first 3 digit number that primary students see in a base 10 number series and there is little doubt, to a young kid, the number 100 is special, indeed.

One of the most well-known ‘100’ primary grade learning goals is requiring students to count to a hundred by ones. When kinder kids accomplish this feat after daily practice, they are often presented with a special sticker or a die cut star with ‘100’ written in the center and pinned to their shirt. When a campus administrator sees a kindergartener proudly displaying their ‘100’ sticker or emblem, they stop them in the hallway or classroom, and praise them for their hard work and accomplishment. This is a feat worthy of high praise and recognition in numeracy development, teacher accountability with their students and the child’s math success. An elementary educator would be hard pressed to find a colleague that believed counting by ones to a 100 is not a worthy and valued primary learning goal.

The only question that remains with regard to basic number sense development is:

Is counting to the number 100, far enough?

Each school year at urban Title 1 Schools, there is always a small but significant number of third grade students that struggled with the ability to independently count by ones. This student group can count to 100 and most kids have little trouble with the next nine digits after 100. However, it was when they reach the number 109, they stop and struggle – uncertain visually of the next three digit number in the pattern. Sometimes, they would stop and not go on, but often they would experiment with number attempts of 1010 or 10010. Both variations were common, the former one more often. Once these students were shown the correct counting pattern after 109, they consistently recognized the correct sequential number pattern.

Both the first grade TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require first grade students to recognize basic counting patterns up to the number 120. It reasons that both standards stipulate the number 120 since it dictates the primary students must count past 109, and students are clearly exposed to a base 10 number system repeating itself using three digit numbers for the first time.

Hence, kindergarten (and first grade) teachers should continue to celebrate their students’ success counting independently by 1’s to the famed century mark. However, it is also recommended that teachers auditory and visually press their students to the 120 mark for needed exposure to three digit number counting past the number 109 – where the counting pattern clearly repeats itself.