How Many?

It's no secret that I love the work of Christopher Danielson. His website, Talking Math With Your Kids, was the inspiration for this newsletter, and I've already shared one of his books, Which One Doesn't Belong?, in a previous edition.

Christopher is out with a new book, How Many?, that I honestly believe should be in any child's book collection. If you invite my kid to your kid's birthday party, you already know what present they're getting.

How to Play

This book couldn't be simpler. Grab the book, turn to any page, and ask your child "How many?"

If you're wondering "How many what?" then you've got the right idea. Each page is filled with all sorts of objects and groups that could be counted. The less you lead your child in any specific direction, the better. 

Prepare to be surprised. When I showed this book to my kids, my daughter immediately wanted to count the letters in the sentence "How many?" 

My son turned the game around on me. On one page, he said "I count six." 

"Six what?" I said

"You have to guess!"

This variation, where you and your child take turns guessing what the other person counted, can keep you searching and counting on the same page for the entirety of bedtime.

Where's the Math?

Each image in this book is designed to elicit conversation about what counts as "one." Kids need lots of experience counting in different ways, using different objects that count as "one" of something.


Look at the image on the left, for example. How many avocados are there? You might glance quickly and say fifteen, but are each of those fifteen items actually a full avocado? You could say that there are 15 half-avocados, or that there are 7 1/2 avocados. Or you could say that there are three rows of avocados, or even that there is one group of avocados! All of these answers are correct, and all of these answers use a different unit of measurement, a different thing that counts as "one."

Once you notice the different ways to count the same objects, your conversations can spin out in all sorts of directions. For example, how many jalapeño peppers are in this image? Is it one, five, one and a half? What counts as one jalapeño?

By the way, if you are really interested in learning more about how kids learn to count, Christopher wrote a teacher's guide that you can purchase in a bundle along with the main title. I am in the middle of reading the teacher's guide, and I have already learned so much about how young kids think about numbers

Questions to Ask

The first question is obvious: How many?

Once your child comes up with a number, you can ask a couple of follow-up questions: First, ask your child "How many what?"

When you get your child to describe what they are counting, you get them to focus on the unit they are using to count. In the avocado image, you might have counted fifteen without thinking too hard about what, exactly, you were counting. But if you include your units, you start thinking harder about what each of those fifteen objects truly is.


Another good follow-up is "How did you count?" Usually, your child starts counting by ones, but as they get older they learn other methods for counting. Maybe they skip-count the apple slices by twos, or they count four slices around the half-circle and then double their answer to eight. 

If your child says "I just counted" you can ask them "Did you think of the number seven before eight?" If they counted by ones, then they probably thought of seven, but if they used another method they probably skipped seven on their way to eight.

Lastly, you should definitely try to ask your kids "How many?" out and about in the real world. This book, whose images all contain household objects, invites you and your children to count creatively, and your children can use that skill whenever they see an interesting object. A flower, a bookshelf, and a truck can all be counted over and over with the same simple question: how many?

But seriously, if you want more advice on how to use this book to elicit creative mathematical conversations with your kids, check out the teacher's guide.

Buy How Many? from Stenhouse Publishers (cheaper than on Amazon)