Just like reading, there are fundamental skills that kids need to master in order to be ready for arithmetic and computation later. Math is often overlooked in early childhood education, but arguably just as important as reading and writing.
There are a lot of simple activities you can do to teach math to your toddler as well as give your child a head start.
Teaching math to your young kid is much different than teaching your child reading or writing, but some of the same techniques can be used. When you begin to teach your child to read, you will likely start by teaching your child to recognize the letters of the alphabet. Similarly, you can teach your child to recognize numbers. The difference is, numbers come with a whole lot of meaning that children need to understand. It’s kind of hidden meaning. You can’t see what five means just by looking at the number five.
Even at the earliest ages you can see children begin to think mathematically without any intervention from you. It comes natural even as babies and toddlers. Mathematical concepts your child will explore are object permanence, patterns, one-to-one correspondence, spatial relationships, comparing, classifying, and sorting. These skills will develop naturally through children exploring the environment around them, but there are some things you can do to foster them.
What you need are toddler math activities you can do easily!
Let’s go through each foundational skill and easy math activities you can do to grow your toddlers mathematical understanding.
One of the first math concepts a child learns is object permanence. When your baby starts throwing his cup off the table and waiting for you to pick it up, he or she is learning object permanence (as well as cause and effect so be careful how many times you pick it up). Or when you play peek a boo and your child waits to see you come back from behind your hands, this is object permanence and it has a major impact on mathematical understanding. As your child starts to realize that an object out of view has not actually disappeared, he or she will also be forming his or her symbolic understanding. This is a fundamental skill to understanding mathematical relationships.
Here are a few easy toddler math activities you can play to help your child develop object permanence:
- Cut a hole in the top of a box for your child to drop objects in. Make sure it has an opening so your child can find the objects again.
- Ball drop- use paper towel rolls or pvc pipes and let your child drop small balls through the tube and see them fall out the other side.
- Hide and seek
- Hide objects under cups
- Hide objects under a blanket or a rug
You may also want to read:
- The Lazy Moms Guide to Literacy Development
- How to Foster Literacy Development in Young Kids: Emergent Readers
- How to Skyrocket Your Child’s Early Childhood Education
Anticipating and predicting events are the first steps to a child learning about patterns. This is a critical step in a child’s development, both for mathematical understanding and for feeling secure in their environment. Understanding patterns lays the foundation for logical thinking later in life. As you care for your baby he or she will start to see the patterns that happen in everyday events. How one leads to another and when to expect certain things. Having routines or patterns in your day will encourage this understanding. Your child will thrive on everyday patterns such as brushing teeth, reading a book, going to bed; eating lunch, taking a rest, having playtime; or even as simple as driving from home to daycare and then back home again.
Here are a few easy toddler activities you can do to teach your young child about patterns:
- Use colored objects, such as crayons, counting bears, or blocks to make a variety of patterns.
- Use music to demonstrate patterns in sound. Kids love music so use a drum, piano, xylophone or other instrument and play together. Drum, drum, cymbal, drum, drum, cymbal; or use notes, effeff, etc.
- Use letters (scrabble tiles work perfectly). ABBABB…
- Get our beads and make bracelets, creating patterns out of the shapes or color beads.
- Talk about the patterns in time; morning, afternoon, night, morning, afternoon, night, or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday….
- Do a paper weaving and look at the patterns you create.
- Study the phases of the moon.
- Go out and take photos of patterns you see.
One to one correspondence is the ability to count one object at a time. Children first learn how to rout count and will then move into one-to-one correspondence. Your child will likely memorize the number words in order; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…, but when it comes to counting objects, (s)he might miss an object, count one twice, or just say numbers while randomly pointing. When children are orally counting, to them, they are just saying words, kind of like singing a song they memorized. One-to-one correspondence is one of the first skills that will give your child a foundation of understanding for computation. Once your child can see a number and know it means something (The number 5 means there are physically 5 of something), his/her mathematical understanding will flourish.
Here are a few easy toddler math activities to teach your kids one-to-one correspondence:
- Roll dice
- Counting toys or other objects
- Count coins (not the amount of money, just the number of coins).
- Play shoots and ladders, candy land, Hi Ho Cherry Oh, or other simple board games. (These are my favorites!)
- Write numbers in an empty egg carton and ask your child to fill each section with the written number of objects.
Spacial relationships or spacial thinking/reasoning is the understanding the shapes and positions of objects, their relations to one another, and the movements they make. We use visual spatial reasoning all the time without even realizing it. Have you ever needed to pack for a trip and before even getting out your suitcase, you visualize the outfits you will pack and where they are located in your closet. This is spacial reasoning. Your kids do this too. When you’re reading a book and your child runs to his/her room to get a favorite buddy, they visualize where it is before even entering their room. Spatial thinking is very important in mathematics. Children use it to understand number sense, compare numbers, do arithmetic, and understand geometry.
Here are a few math activities to teach your toddlers about spatial relationships:
- Use a lot of spatial words throughout the day, shape names, big, little, tall, bent, under, over, etc. (Think about words that tell where something is in space, how it is shaped, and what it physically looks like in relation to something else.)
- Encourage your child to use gestures when describing a spatial relationship.
- Build a simple structure, let your child study it, then take it apart and ask your child to try to rebuild the same structure.
- Play memory
- Use tangrams
- Ask your child to build to solve a problem. For example, Can you build a house that your doll can fit in? Can you build a bridge that will go over that toy truck?
- Practice photography. Want a few fun photo projects you and your child can do? Read this.
- Build with toothpicks and marshmallows.
- Practice visualizing when reading a story aloud.
Comparing is the understanding of how one thing compares to something else. Your child will do this naturally from a very young age. Your child will compare something that is hot and cold, something they like or don’t like, etc. It is much easier for a child to learn how to distinguish differences than it is to find similarities. You can help build this understanding by asking comparing questions. You might ask, what is different about the weather today than yesterday? What is the same about your pants and your shirt? Comparing is an easy skill to practice throughout the day because you can compare almost anything. It is also a great opportunity to practice opposites.
Here are a few toddler math activities to get your child familiar with comparing:
- Compare items that will float and not float
- Do a taste test and compare different foods
- Compare the way things feel. Collect objects with different textures or temperatures.
- Put things in order by size
- Play with stacking toys
- Compare your family’s shoe sizes.
- Play with measuring things. Use all kinds of tools; tape measures, scales, measuring cups, etc.
Classifying, sorting, and matching are concepts that your child will develop as early as infancy. Your child will first start to understand which noises or actions bring about which results or interactions with you. Your child will grow this information to learn about his/her environment and how it relates to him/her. As children get bigger, they will start to notice how things are alike and different within their own environment and how each thing relates to one another and themselves.
Here are a few easy math ideas to teach your toddler about classifying, sorting, and matching:
- Put toys away into buckets of like toys.
- Do a puzzle.
- Get out money and classify each kind of coin
- Cut pictures out of magazines and classify them: animals, cars, people, etc.
- Make t-charts with various headings: things that fly/things that don’t fly, animals that live in water/animals that lie on land, things you find inside/things you find outside. Make lists or find photos to go on each side.
- Get out a few pieces of different colored paper. Have your child search for objects that match each color.
- Sort objects by size
- Sort food on your plate by kind of food
- Sort laundry together either by type of clothes or by person in the family
- Give your child a handful of m&m’s and sort them by color
- Put together a tub of nuts and bolts (make sure your child is old enough not to put them in their mouth and watch carefully). Have your child sort them into groups.
- Go outside and find different leaves and sort them into groups
- Sort books into fiction and nonfiction.
- Sort toys into play with and don’t play with piles. Then donate the don’t play with items.
Young children are already mathematical thinkers. Somewhere along the way many kids lose their confidence in their mathematical abilities and shy away from math in school. Start your kids with these easy toddler math activities and you will not only grow their mathematical foundation, but also give them the confidence they need to apply these skills to later mathematical work. No matter what gender your child is (research no longer supports that boys are better at math than girls), if you were “good” at math when you were young, or if you see a natural talent in your child, a good math foundation will skyrocket your child’s mathematical success. Start including some of the above math activities and integrating math into your daily life!
Math and reading foundations are incredibly important in your child’s later academic success. Need literacy activities that will help your child become a reader? Download your free ebook here!