Giving children, especially toddlers, real experiences of math concepts like numbers, shapes and measurement is a great way to get them to learn
Children are using early math skills throughout their daily routines and activities. These skills are important to prepare them for school. But early math doesn’t mean worksheets and calculators during playtime. Before they start school, most children develop an understanding of addition and subtraction through everyday interactions. Joe has two apples. He shares one with Jane. He sees that he has one apple left. Other math skills are introduced through daily routines you share with your child, counting acorns on a walk in the neighborhood. Informal activities like this one give children a jumpstart on the formal math instruction that starts in school.
I have shared some of my favorite, fun play based math activities for toddlers below:
Learning to count is a great introduction to mathematics for toddlers. Teaching math to toddlers is not difficult. Think about your regular day and the math concepts that you see and explore each day.
- Counting fingers and toes from one to ten is particularly fun when accompanied by rhymes such as “one, two, buckle my shoe.”
- Counting cars.
- Counting out the number of steps while walking.
- Counting how many peas are on your plate.
- Looking for numbers on your neighbors houses.
This is just a small sample of how math and number concepts can be explored during your regular day.
Count and Sort
Help your child understand groups by sorting things based on different categories. Gather a basket of small toys, colorful beads or buttons. Count them with your toddler. Sort them based on size, color, or what they do. For instance, have him separate his toy cars from his toy airplanes, and then count how many are in each group.
- Play Hide-and-Seek games.
- Play games with your toddler that teach the concepts of “near and far” or “under and over.”
- Fit things together and take them apart.
- Let your toddler practice volume and quantity by filling cups with water or sand, and transferring contents from one container to another.
- Stack and Rearrange objects.
- Play spatial Sports.
Later in school, children will call this “geometry.” But for toddlers it is introducing the ideas of shape, size, space, position, direction and movement.
Even toddlers can help you in the kitchen by filling, stirring, and pouring. Through these activities, children learn, to count, measure, add, and estimate.
This is the ability to make a good guess about the amount or size of something. This is difficult for toddlers. Explain the meaning of words like bigger, smaller, more than, less than. Cut up a pie into a regular piece and a smaller piece. Ask your toddler if he wants the “bigger” or “smaller” piece.
Notice the sizes of objects in the world around you: My shoe is big. Your shoe is very small. Ask your toddler to think about his own size relative to other objects (“Can you fit under the table?”).
Arrange a family garden party and use it as a teaching opportunity for your toddler. Teach him that mathematics has real-life applications too! Ask your toddler to help in distributing items like snacks or in laying napkins out on the table. Setting one plate for one person, two cups for two people, and so on helps your toddler learn important skills
This helps children understand one-to-one correspondence. When you are distributing items, emphasize the number concept: “One for you, one for me, one for Daddy.”
Make household chores fun. As you sort the laundry, ask your child to make a pile of shirts and a pile of socks. Ask him to estimate which pile is the bigger. Together, count how many shirts. Ask him to match and pair the socks.
Identifying shapes is fundamental to your child’s understanding of math. Play a game of finding squares, triangles and circles around the house. Point out the circular clock face, square table, triangular sandwich.
Play with shape-sorters. Talk with your child about each shape, count the sides, describe the colors. Make your own shapes by cutting large shapes out of colored construction paper.
Point out the different shapes and colors you see during the day. On a walk, you may see a triangular shaped sign that’s yellow. Inside a store you may see a rectangular shaped sign that’s red.
Ask your toddler to gather all of his toy cars, then line them up from smallest to largest. This math game will teach your toddler about size.
Patterns are also an important math concept for toddlers. Patterns are numbers, shapes, images that repeat in a logical way. Patterns help children learn to make predictions, to understand what comes next, to make logical connections, and to use reasoning skills.
Let your child arrange blocks in alternating color or shape patterns.
Give your child the chance to play with wooden blocks, plastic interlocking blocks, empty boxes, milk cartons, etc. Stacking and manipulating these toys help children learn about shapes and the relationships between shapes (e.g., two triangles make a square). Nesting boxes and cups for younger children help them understand the relationship between different sized objects.
Problem solving is a skill which cannot suddenly be developed in an adult. It can still continue to grow slowly in an adult, however, the majority of learning occurs during the early years.
The best time for a child to learn to problem solve in a fun way is early in their lives. The benefits of learning early will last a lifetime and the beauty of learning anything at a young age is that it is effortless.
Aside from giving a toddler independence to play and learn, consider the following simple activities to promote their problem-solving:
- Working with blocks, nesting boxes, or stacking rings.
- Playing hide-and-seek with objects.
- Grouping like items together.
- Putting together puzzles.
- Drawing in their own book.
- Answering story-time questions.
- Engaging in imaginative play with household objects.
- Playing games such as Simon Says, Tic-Tac-Toe, or spot the difference between two similar pictures.
- Doing simple chores such as wiping counters or sweeping.
- Stringing macaroni, cereal, or chunky beads.
- Building forts from boxes or sheets.
- Matching animals with their sounds.
- Playing memory games.
From around the age of 2, your child is developmentally ready to understand the one-to-one relationship between a numeral and objects. He knows, for instance, that two is more than one. The math activities for toddlers described above teach him important concepts and prepare them for school. This is just a small sample of how math and number concepts can be explored during your regular day.
If you are raising, or have raised a toddler, I would love to hear from you. Have you used any of the above-mentioned activities or have you used other methods to teach your toddler math? Please leave your comment below.