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An Easy Way To Improve Math Fluency: Count Backward

Parents are well aware of the importance of reading fluency. However, early math fluency is equally crucial. Simply put, math fluency means fast and automatic retrieval of math facts from memory.

For young students it should be as simple as knowing the number that comes “right after,” or the one that comes “right before.” For example, if a child sees a card with the number 22, he should immediately be able to say 23 comes right after, and 21 comes right before.
Students are usually quite good at getting the number that comes right after, but often falter when asked for the number right before.

A simple way a child can become more fluent for the number right before is counting backward!

Here’s how to practice:

  • Always count over multiples of 10. By this I mean counting backward over 10, 20, 30, etc. Counting backward over multiples of 10 tends to be more challenging.
  • For a kindergarten child start with 15 and count backward to 0. When she does that with ease, start with 21 and go backward to 0, and so on.
  • For a 1st grade student, start counting backward from 25 to 0. When that is easily mastered, start in the high thirties (39, for example) and count back to 0.
  • Increase to a higher start number each time your child easily masters the lower numbers you’ve been practicing. The ultimate goal, for early elementary students, is fluent backward counting from 100 to 0.
  • Try counting down before giving her a treat, when traveling, or anytime you have a few extra minutes with your child.


Practicing this simple activity with your young student can be invaluable in promoting number fluency.

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