Even toddlers use math on a daily basis. They notice how big their friend’s cookie is compared to the one you gave them. They’ll tell you when their brother’s blocks are taller than theirs, and most toddlers can walk up or down steps while counting them!
Before your child enters school, there are many ways you can help to grow their early math skills. Here are a few:
Counting: Kids love to count everything! Help your child learn to count accurately by showing them the ways counting relates to real life. When your child asks to help you set the table, use this as an opportunity to say, “There are five people in our family, so we will need five plates: one, two, three, four, five.” Then count how many piece of food are on everyone’s plate! Help your child make math ideas “real” by using words, pictures, symbols and objects.
Shapes: Talk about the shapes and sizes of things. Discuss how much space things take up and what direction they move in (up, down, left, right, under, and over).
Measuring: Cooking is a great way to introduce the concept of measurement. Count out the number of eggs you’ll need and fill a cup size of water. Let your child help you prepare the ingredients empty them in the bowl as you count together.
Guessing how much: Help your child learn to make good guesses about the amount or size of things. This is very hard to do at first. Help your child by using words like more, less, bigger, smaller, more than, and less than. Your child must first understand words about size in order to make guesses. Questions that make comparisons will help your child begin to understand amounts (for example, “Whose plate has more grapes?”).
Patterns: Patterns are numbers, shapes and images that repeat. Patterns help children understand what comes next. Your child might have already started to notice patterns and it’s your job to encourage them to spot patterns in their everyday life.
Practice Problem-Solving: Remember the first time your child tried to fit a triangle in a shape sorter? It’s most likely much easier for them now because they have had experience that can now help them in similar situations. Remind them of strategies that worked before (or suggest some to try) but resist the urge to take over!
How to help your child learn math skills the fun way!
- Play with toys with holes for shapes, which help kids learn their shapes and let them count the sides.
- Use any and all opportunities to count. You can count the number of steps you take, the number of buses you see, the number of block you walk, etc.
- Sorting things helps your child learn to look for differences and similarities between objects. This makes it easier to see patterns. Sort by type, color, size, shape, anything!
- Learn the family address and number. As your child approaches their 3rd birthday, begin to teach them their address and phone number. Show your child how all houses/apartments have their own number and that the numbers go in order.
- Help your child begin to notice the size of things around them. “Which ball is the biggest?” “Can you fit under the table? Can mommy? Who is bigger?”
- On walks with your child, find all of the math opportunities to discuss. Compare (“Which stick is longer?”), count (“How many rocks did we find?”), note patterns (“All squirrels have furry tails”) and sort (sort leaves by color). Walks are also a great time to chat with your child about size (by taking big and little steps), guess amounts (“We saw about 10 trees”), and practice counting (“Let’s count how many steps until we get to the corner.”).
- Practice the days of the week. Begin to talk about the date, the day of the week, and the weather. Calendars are great for learning about counting and patterns.
- Set the table. When you set each item down on the table, say who will be using it, “One for you, one for me, and one for Daddy. Three plates for three people!”
Blocks. Encourage your child to play with wooden blocks. Stacking and playing with blocks will help your child learn about shapes and make comparisons between shapes (taller, more than, etc.).
- Pattern play. Have fun with patterns by letting your child arrange different items (cheerios, dry beans, pieces of colored paper) in different patterns or designs. Note: continue to be aware of choking hazards.