The notion that young children simply “count” the same way they recite their ABC’s is a misconception of this skill. Yes, young children can memorize a set of words in order (one, two, three, four, etc.) but understanding that each of those words represents a quantity is a skill that comes much later.
Knowing “how many” is not an innate skill like crawling. It takes frequent opportunities and exposures to see quantity. This begins with a visual perception of relative amounts. One of the best ways to encourage this kind of thinking is by providing opportunities for children to determine “More” and “Less”. We do this through regular, everyday interactions like eating, by asking “Do you want more applesauce?” and even earlier, “Do you want more milk?”
When you observe interactions between caregivers and infants, do you see the adults put bottles back in the babies’ mouths and jiggle the bottle about, rather than asking, “Do you want more milk?” It is irrelevant if the infant has oral language. This is an opportunity to expose the child to the notion of quantity. We don’t expect the infant to respond to the question. We use this language in order to work on conversational skills, to allow the infant some control over her feeding and to encourage the development of the concept of quantity. It is up to her to decide if she wants more. Eventually, she will seal her lips together and shake her head so the caregiver cannot put the nipple back in. She has decided that she doesn’t want more; that she is done.
Don’t begin working on counting before the young child is ready. Keep exposing her to quantity in general and observe how she become better able to determine more and less. Think of ways to engage her in number activities that don’t involve counting but do involve number. Keep modeling counting. Let the development of number sense unfold naturally. It will. I promise.