Teaching Toddlers Number Recognition- Foundation for Early Math



Teaching toddlers number recognition creates foundational skills for early math. It is important to develop before you can go on to many other skills, like correctly putting numbers in order, finding missing numbers in a sequence, being able to add and subtract with written number sentences.

Number recognition is about the physical appearance and shape of a number, as well as what value it represents.

If you’re wondering how to teach your toddler number recognition, the answer is always through play. Play is the natural way in which children learn. During play, children practice their skills and make sense of new knowledge and experiences.

Here are some fun and interactive number recognition games and activities for your toddler that you can play at home.

Number Recognition In The Environment

Teaching toddlers number recognition includes teaching them about numbers in the environment as well as using numbers in math. So it’s important that they have lots of opportunities to find numbers on everyday items like :

  • cell phones
  • cars
  • traffic signs
  • TV remotes
  • menus

Help them understand that numbers can be found everywhere.

Number Recognition In Everyday Life

Children also need to explore how everybody uses numbers everyday. Kids need to learn that numbers are not just for ‘Math’ class. But that they have real life uses, like:

  • cooking and measurements
  • setting the right number of places at the dinner table
  • dividing the pizza slices at the table
  • shopping at the grocery store

Learning numbers become more meaningful to kids as they begin to understand how essential numbers are.

Use Numbers As The Theme Of The Story

Stories link numbers to the world. This makes numbers relevant to children’s lives. We teach maths to children so they can apply it in their lives, and so learning through stories makes a whole lot of sense.

Stories are great for teaching lots of different skills, as stories really tap into children’s sense of curiosity and attention like few other things.

Collect a few objects into a box as props for your story. If, for example, you are introducing number 4. Have a cut-out of the number 4 or any other physical manifestation of the number 4. Your story could go like this ‘This is number 4. Today it went on an adventure. It found 4 magic stones.’ Take out the stones from the box . ‘It rubbed the stones, and 4 dragons appeared.’ (Take the toy dragons out of the box).

Find Numbers In Story Books

Books are another route to firing up children’s curiosity and interest.

The idea of this strategy is that you find opportunities in books to count or find numbers, and then talk about it. You can write down the numbers that you find. You can count the pigs in the Three Little Pigs, the dwarfs in Snow White. Any story with a number in it is an opportunity.

Number Lines

Number lines are great for children to start to visualize what numbers look like in a sequence. They are also great for number recognition. Write numbers on colorful sticky notes and ask your toddler to stick it in sequence on a number line.

Create An Outdoor Number Line


Children love to play outdoors. Combine outdoor fun with learning. Use chalk to draw out your number line and encourage your child to locate different numerals ,“Stand on number 2,” “Hop to number 4” and so on.

Messy Number Formation

Developing a range of activities that encourage children to be creative, express their individuality and build fine and gross motor skills won’t just help them to develop self-confidence, it will also improve their overall levels of ability and self-esteem.

Within a play curriculum, messy play is an aspect that encompasses each of these skills in an organic setting. Messy play is a wonderful way to teach toddlers number recognition. The messier numbers can get the better.

The idea is here is to get some kind of messy surface that the children can use their fingers to make numbers on.

You could use:

  • Baby powder
  • Shaving foam
  • Baking Flour
  • Sand

Have some big numbers for them somewhere to look at and copy. The children try writing the numbers in the messy substance.

Nature’s Numerals

If your child likes to be creative and artistic then this could work for her. Use nature to create the shapes of numbers.

This might mean drawing in the mud or sand, arranging flowers or pebbles. This allows your child to begin thinking about how numerals are formed, but in a fun and creative way. Take picture of her number creations to show her later and ask her to identify that number.

Number Dice Games

Competitions and games with dice really help children to learn now to recognize numbers. The repetition of seeing numbers again and again really helps. Roll the number dice and do that number of actions,e.g. if you get a 3, then you clap 3 times or hop 3 times. Add variation but the idea is to have as much fun as possible.

Valet Service

Write numbers onto some toy cars and create a parking garage with numbered spaces. Your child can then match the number on the car with the number in the space and park the car correctly. You could do a similar game with animals, or dolls, or anything else your child enjoys playing with.


Hopscotch is a classic playground favorite. Draw out a hopscotch grid and teach your child how to play. Throw a stone to find out where he needs to hop to. As well as reinforcing the recognition of numerals this also introduces the idea of higher and lower and allows your child to have fun while working with numbers.

Magic Potion

Create a couple of ‘recipe cards’ using measurements expressed as numerals, for example, 2 cups of slime, 4 leaves from any tree in the garden, one cup sand and so on. Have your toddler follow the recipe card, combining everything together in a big cauldron or bucket. This taps into children’s imaginations and introduces the concept of measurement as well as numbers. Ask your child to create his own recipes and help him write it down.


Bingo is a great maths game for building up number awareness and can be enjoyed as a family. Use numerals up to 10 as a start. You can use what you have on hand, a bowl and folded up pieces of paper, with highlighters, or you can buy a complete bingo set.

Bingo is great for building number recognition and as your child aims to increase her speed, she will get quicker and quicker at recognizing numbers and linking them to the number names being called out.

Teaching toddlers number recognition need not be forced or made to feel like learning. Remember that kids learn through play, so keep it light and fun.

If you have tried any of these activities to teach your toddler numbers, drop me a comment below. Maybe, you have used other activities which are just as fun and effective. I would love to hear from you.

Related article: math-activities-for-toddlers-early-learning/

6 thoughts on “Teaching Toddlers Number Recognition- Foundation for Early Math”

  • It was very nice learning about this and I could relate it to this a whole lot because my nephew is very yound and still in his learning stage and I found this very helpful to me and I even had to save this for a reread. This was nothing short of a masterpiece. Definitely sharing this for my family

    • Hi Collins

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article and comment.

      Hopefully your nephew can benefit from some off my suggestions.


  • Great article. This is actually an amazing way for kids to learn and still have fun. I don’t have kids as of yet but I have a bunch of nieces and nephews. I will be sure to share this article with their parents. I am sure they will appreciate it and pick up a few tips. Thank you 

    • Hi Daniel

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article.

      I am glad you feel that this article could be beneficial to your nieces and nephews.

      Thank you for sharing my ideas with your family.


  • Thank you for this post. My daughter has been learning numbers. And I have only been using books to point them out to her. But it’s time we start using games. And all these are great ideas. I will start by drawing a Number Line. And Hopscotch brings so many good memories from my childhood. So, we will also play it!

    • Hi Ann

      Thank you for your comments

      Books are a great teaching tool, but learning while playing will always keep kids engaged for longer.

      Hopscotch is an old favorite that will still appeal to the little ones now.

      Have fun playing with your daughter. 


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