As a former K-12 teacher and district administrator, I’ve always enjoyed teaching math to various ages. Now, as a mom of two toddlers, ages 1.5 and 3, I’m getting to do that firsthand every day in my own home. Babies and young children can absorb mathematical information during these early stages of childhood development.1 I’m seeing this happen firsthand with my daughters! The key to teaching math concepts to toddlers is to make it fun, light-hearted, and play-oriented. If they seem disinterested, don’t force it. Come back to it later, or try another approach.
Fun Ways to Introduce Numbers and Counting to Your Toddler
Teach Counting By Singing
A fun way to introduce math concepts is by singing! Singing songs is a great way for kids to memorize and learn about numbers because most songs involve repetition through the chorus lines. If you sing a song repeatedly, a child can memorize the concepts embedded in those lyrics. Children learn rhythm and patterns when singing songs, which sets a strong foundation for understanding mathematics in years to come.
Tip: Choose songs that they respond positively to. If your child is clapping his hands or she is dancing, you know they like it! Your little one will be more likely to absorb the information when they’re excited! Also, singing with them helps them integrate the information they hear faster because they are already attuned to your voice. Singing songs, regardless of whether they are about numbers, is still beneficial to learning math foundations. If you want to up the ante by focusing on songs about numbers and counting, try traditional nursery songs like “5 Little Ducks Went Out One Day” and “Ten Little Dinosaurs.”
Talk About Numbers Throughout Your Day
Numbers and counting are a natural part of our day-to-day life. Take small moments to emphasize and chat about numbers with your kiddo while eating, cooking, shopping, gardening, working, cleaning, putting on their clothes, or taking a bath. You can point to shapes inside your home or out in nature to introduce the idea of geometry. For example, show your child the shape of a window and how it has four sides. When you make numbers conversational, children will understand that math is a part of daily functioning rather than seeing math in a box as a separate subject.
Tip: Make eye contact and pick up or point to the objects you describe in your math conversation. Then, allow your child to respond and touch or point to the objects. For example, say, “How many shoes are you putting on today? Two! One shoe plus one shoe equals two shoes!” If you’re getting toys out for bath time, count each toy out loud with your little one as you add the toys into the bath, “One, two, three, four, five ducks and one, two, three boats! That’s eight bath toys tonight!”
Sort, Group, and Pattern Toys While Playing Or Cleaning
Sorting and grouping your child’s toys by category is a fun way to introduce them to logical thinking, which is important for future mathematics. Classifying and sorting objects is also important for developing numerical concepts, understanding addition and sums, and introducing kids to group numbers and sets. You can encourage your toddler to sort their toys or stuffed animals by color, type of toy, toy size, or shape.
Tip: If you see your child organizing their toys in a certain way, sit with them and thoughtfully ask questions that encourage and expand the conversation around numbers. For example, “I see you are sorting your six dolls. Two of them are sleeping. What are the other four doing right now?” Or simply, “I see you’ve sorted the cars from the boats.” You can also explore patterns with blocks, large Legos, and other toys. Try making patterns where you alternate a blue block and a yellow block, for example, and continue the pattern. Notice if you get a response from your toddler, such as a clap or smile, as they see what you’re doing. Remember, it’s not about ensuring they understand exactly what you’re teaching but rather that they notice and engage with you in a fun way around the concepts you’re introducing.
Reading and Storytelling About Numbers
Reading is essential to developing your child’s understanding of numbers and counting. Firstly, it expands their vocabulary and helps develop their imagination. Reading also provides an opportunity to connect positively with you—their parent and caregiver. Believe it or not, this is important to math because your child learns how to connect positively with adults, which will serve them well if and when they have teachers of any subject in the future. For toddlers, you can intentionally choose books that teach about numbers in simple ways.
Tip: Use varying tones of voice to emphasize parts of the book as you read to your little one. This helps them better absorb and understand the concepts you are teaching. Try to choose books that may be math-focused, tell a fun story, and have exciting pictures. There’s no better way to engage your toddler than to have a good story in your hands that keeps them wanting to turn the page. Ultimately, any book can be a template for teaching numbers. As you read through, you can always stop and count objects in the pictures or ask your toddler questions like, “How many flowers do you see on this page?”
Learning Math Through Body Parts And Movement
As toddlers begin to discover their faces and bodies, you can start counting parts of their body with them. Movement, such as dance or free play, can also present opportunities for counting through the creative expression of their body movement. My 1.5-year-old is really into parts of the face right now. She’s walking around throughout the day, saying, “Eyes! Nose! Mouth!” And it’s really cute! We’ve taken that to the next level a few times by saying, “Yes! You have two eyes: one, two. Mommy has two eyes: one, two.” We try to build off of what she is already showing us.
Tip: This kind of learning can be particularly effective for high-energy kiddos who don’t want to sit still or seem to learn best kinesthetically and using their hands. You can count their toes or incorporate dance, jumping, running, or sports into a counting game. My 3-year-old and I like to play in the backyard and jump together. We try to jump up and down to 20 and then jump up and down, counting backward. You can make it up as you go! See what they like and run with it.
My Favorite Math Games For Toddlers!
Another fun way to introduce numbers and counting to your toddler is by using well-crafted games! If you’d like to supplement everyday, at-home math learning with fun games and toys, see my list below for my favorite games on the market. These are perfect for preschoolers and toddlers, and you will find many of these in classrooms right now. I have as much fun as them playing these games with the kids!
- Monkey Balance
- The Learning Journey: Match It! Puzzle
- Skoolzy AMZ New Rainbow Counting Bears with Matching Sorting Cups
- Coogam Toddler Clamp Bee to Hive Matching Game
- CozyBomB Wooden Number Puzzle
- Educational Insights Shapes
- Edx Education Linking Cubes
- Magnetic Letters & Numbers
- Coogam Wooden Geoboard
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