Our 4-year-old daughter just turned 4 and just started Pre-K. She can count to 10 and recognize 0-10 written on a board, with really no issues whatsoever. However, we've been working with her for half an hour to just learn the numbers 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and she still can't do it by herself. Specifically, it's taken her almost that entire time to just recognize what 13 is.

Her sister, 13 months younger, can count to 20 with very little help though. We do all of the same activities together -- so I'm wondering if

  1. this is just normal differences between normal toddlers,
  2. she's somewhat behind for her age, or maybe
  3. her sister is just a faster learner when it comes to counting.

Anyone else have experience with what skills a 4-year-old should have when it comes to memorization and numbers? We were thinking she should be able to count to 20 with no help, so we're trying to work with her more to get her there. Is 20 too high of a bar for a 4-year-old? (I assume not, since her sister does it, and is a year younger).

Any advice?

4 Answers 4


All children are different, learn at different paces and are stronger in some things than others. This is just the way things are.

What you may not realise is that the whole time you've been helping your now 4 year old to count, the younger one has been listening and absorbing.

My two children (8 and 6) read at the same band of books and I think the 6yo would read at a higher level if the school let her. She's picked it up so quickly because she's effectively been doing it for 2 years longer.


My son is 4 and a half and he only just started counting up to 10. We're going to practise that for a while before we do 11-20.

In contrast his older sister could count to 20 already before she was 4. So, I wouldn't worry too much - kids develop at different speeds.

With my older daughter I noticed it was harder for her to learn 11 to 20 than it was for 1 to 10. It helped us to relate "two" to "tw-elve", "th-ree" to "th-irteen" (working with the sounds), "four" to "fourteen", etc.


My son's school expects the kids to be able to have a good grasp of the numbers up to 20 by the time they are between five and six years old. This means that they should be able to recognize or write the numbers, and to easily be able to say which number comes next or before. Some kids can do simple arithmetic with addition and subtraction, and can halve or double a number as well. They start formally teaching them these numbers when they are between four and five years old.

It might be that your younger one indeed has a better memory capacity or greater cognitive skill or simply a thing for numbers.

It might also be that the younger one is memorising the words and visual signs for the numbers by heart (small kids are really good at this), whereas the older one realizes that there is some logical structure to the sequence of written numbers, and is trying to work it out. This is clearly the harder task, but once she gets it she should be able to extrapolate to even bigger numbers with greater ease than her little sister.


Counting "only" to ten at age 4 is pretty normal. The younger sister is ahead.

A single half hour session is not very much to try to get a 4 year old to learn anything that requires memorization. You'll probably need dozens or scores of sessions, although they might only require a minute or two each.

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