As a teacher, introducing concepts like one to one correspondence is essential for helping your preschoolers develop foundational skills in math. However, teaching this concept can be quite tricky! That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide to teaching one to one correspondence to preschoolers—a comprehensive resource that outlines everything you need to know in order to effectively teach these important building blocks of number sense.
With this guide, you’ll have your little ones confidently mastering the basics of number recognition soon! In this post, you’ll learn what it is, why it’s important, and how to teach one to one correspondence so your preschoolers will quickly master this critical step in learning to count.
All About Teaching One to One Correspondence in Preschool
Whether you are a brand new teacher full of enthusiasm in your first year of teaching or a seasoned veteran teacher who has seen it all, learning about developmental preschool math concepts is super helpful.
Teaching math to preschoolers may seem simple, and it can be!
Being intentional about how we teach the building blocks in math is what is going to help our students develop mastery in number sense skills. Detailed lesson plans can really help.
What is One to One Correspondence in Math?
One to one correspondence is the ability to match an object to the corresponding number and recognize that numbers are symbols to represent a quantity.
A more simple one to one correspondence definition is this:
It is an early learning math skill that involves the act of counting each object in a set once, and only once, with one touch per object. The official term for this action is called “tagging”.
These are some other ways you might see one to one correspondence written:
- one to one correspondence
- one-to-one correspondence
- 1 to 1 correspondence
- 1:1 correspondence
It doesn’t matter how you write it. It all means the same thing.
It’s the rule that each number translates to a specific quantity AND the recognition that numbers are a symbol to show a quantity.
For example, look at the image below.
On the left side are adult animals. A pig, a sheep, and a goat. On the right side of the tray are the baby versions of the same three animals. There is one adult animal for each baby animal. It’s 1:1 correspondence.
The same is true with counting. But instead, put the number on the left side and the quantity on the right side.
Children must understand conceptually that when counting is executed correctly, the final number is the answer to how many and thus represents the quantity of the set. This is understanding cardinality, and is the next step in early math development.
What One to One Correspondence Skills Look Like in Play
Children in the one to one correspondence stage of learning how to count might be involved in behaviors like the following:
- Select one item in their new set for each item in an existing set. (Adding one spoon next to one bowl while setting the table).
- Carefully line up objects to organize toys. (Placing a single car into a single parking space when playing cars).
- Rolling the dice and then moving a game piece the corresponding number of spaces.
Rote Counting vs. One to One Correspondence
During preschool and beyond, students transition through predictable stages of math development skills. Some of these skills include rote counting, one-to-one correspondence, cardinality, and conservation of number to name a few. (You can read all about number sense in this post).
Rote counting and counting with one-to-one are very different.
Rote counting is reciting the numbers in order. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. But counting with one-to-one involves actually touching each object and saying the numeral name aloud, which is a much more complex skill for young children. And just as important, it attaches quantity to the number as well.
This is a much more complex number sense skill for preschoolers.
Most children can rote count fairly easily, however this demonstrates memory and not the understanding of concept of quantity.
Why is One to One Correspondence Important in Number Sense?
One to one correspondence is a foundation for all the skills that come after it: adding, subtracting, comparing numbers, finding one more and less, and lots of other things too.
Without mastery in one to one correspondence, all these other counting skills are non-starters.
Like all the best skills, it takes time, practice and a few strategies to really hammer the message home.
Therefore, it is important that children are enabled to count, understanding what they are doing and what the numbers mean. Familiarity builds children’s confidence with mathematics and is a crucial skill for being able to perform calculations in the future.
It is also necessary for reading as children must recognize what that the words they say while counting have a specific meaning.
The Four “Rules” of Counting With One to One Correspondence
Math is full of important rules, and counting is no different. But they are here for good reason and make math work. If your kindergartener or preschooler can do all four of the following, then they have mastered counting.
- Each object can only be assigned one number name.
- The number names must be used in a fixed order (one, two, three, four, etc).
- It does not matter what order the objects are counted in or what arrangement they hold, the quantity is always the same as the number counted.
- The last number name used gives the total number of objects (how many). This is called the cardinal number.
The Stages of One to One Correspondence Development
Like all other stages in early math development, children go through predictable stages when learning how to count using one to one correspondence.
Stage 1 – Pre-counters
As you might imagine, in this stage, children have not developed a firm understanding of quantity, so when prompted they respond with random numbers. These children are young, ranging from one to two years old.
It is likely that some children as young as two can correctly name quantities, but in these cases the children are most likely subitizing. (Read all about the importance of subitizing in this post).
In the pre-counting stage, children benefit from sorting and matching games. Making matches is a precursor to one to one correspondence skill development.
Stage 2 – The Reciters
At this stage, children will offer a number-word sequence, but won’t tag each item. This means that while they may count 1, 2, 3, etc, they might not touch each item counted, thus ending at the wrong number.
Children in this stage benefit from instructional embedding, where one to one correspondence counting activities are integrated into natural and daily preschool activities. (Source) This fits in well with young children’s natural tendency to play pretend and act out counting scenarios.
After this, parents and teachers can use response shaping to teach one to one correspondence. This is where we move from larger scale gross motor counting to teacher modeling using smaller actions, like sliding toy cars across a desk while counting a set.
Stage 3 – The Corresponders
Children at this stage respond to the question how many by completely recounting the set and make an effort to do so with one-to-one correspondence. But in this stage, children do not yet recognize the significance of the final number and fail to repeat it or emphasize it. (Source)
Stage 4 – The Immature Counters
A this stage, children are close to mastery, but tend to make mistakes, still. Two common mistakes include:
- Counting the same object twice while tagging
- Tagging each object but forgetting to say each number, therefor skipping numbers
Stage 5 – Rigid Rule Followers
At stage five, children understand that the answer to how many is always the largest number in the counting sequence, even if that counting sequence is out of order.
For example, a child might say 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 6, etc. and then claim the quantity is six, because it is the largest number named. In this stage, it is particularly important for teachers and parents to require children to practice the procedures of counting.
Stage 6 – Counters
At the sixth stage, children provide an accurate response to the question how many. This occurs first for the quantities 1-5 (usually around age four), and later for the quantities 6-10 (usually around age five).
Children at this stage are also able to recognize mistakes in counting and will count again to correct themselves. They might also compare their count with a set to check their answer.
How to Teach One to One Correspondence in Kindergarten and Preschool
There are so many fun ways to teach one to one correspondence in preschool and kindergarten. Try some of these easy ideas. You’re probably already doing a lot of them.
- Count things in books.
- Count actions, like climbing up the stairs.
- You can count objects in play, like how many balls at recess.
- Count things in the world around us! (As in, count everything!)
Beyond this, there is a step-by-step process for introducing the one to one process in counting. It should look something like this.
- Model how to count using one to one correspondence.
- Invite the children to help you count.
- Allow the child to count on their own with the adult making corrections as needed.
- Child counts independently and successfully.
These steps can take months to learn, even years!
One to One Correspondence Activities for Preschoolers
Children learn best from hands-on activities instead of doing lengthly preschool math worksheets. But this is not news to early childhood teachers. Hands-on preschool math activities are the best route!
Here are some activities preschool teachers and kindergarten teachers are loving right now. Add them to your counting lesson plans.
See all my counting activities here! Then keep reading to see tips for helping children who struggle with counting.
How to Improve One to One Correspondence for Children Who Are Struggling
Developing number sense skills is a bulky demand, and for some children, it doesn’t come easily nor naturally. Here are some tips for helping children develop one to one correspondence skills.
- Teach children to properly tag each item by touching it.
- Start with small quantities.
- Go slowly. Count slowly and practice frequently and consistently.
- Show quantities in lines first, and then move into random placements.
- Focus first on children counting correctly, and after one to one correspondence is mastered, then work on number recognition skills.
One to One Correspondence Supplies
It can be very helpful to have a variety of materials to work with when teaching one to one correspondence! They can be used with ten frames, counting games, and much more. Here are some of our favorites.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.