February 4, 2019
Simple Math Activities for Early Learners
There’s more than counting one-two-three for children birth-to-five.
From the very first few months of your baby’s life, your little one is already laying the foundation for a lifetime of math learning. And with your help, your child will hit many celebration-worthy milestones. As your baby explores and learns how routines work, they are learning about order and sequence. Does your toddler love puzzles? That’s because they’re beginning to understand how different shapes fit together. Is your child preparing for kindergarten? Watch in delight as your little one counts beyond 10 or see them add two plus two for the first time.
As your child’s skills grow, you’ll notice that many everyday moments can be math moments with a little bit of encouragement and the use of math words. Check out these simple activities for encouraging math learning at home:
Understanding different shapes and sizes.
When it’s bath time, give your baby containers of different sizes and watch them try what each container can do. The little ones make small splashes, that the bigger container of water makes more of a mess. And who doesn’t love a mess? As your baby splashes and squeals their delight, they’re also learning the basics of measurement.
Putting things together and taking them apart.
You don’t need special fancy toys to teach your little learner about geometry. Your little one is building early geometry skills when they explore how different things fit together. Watch how they play with regular objects or toys – this car on top of that block, the stuffed dinosaur inside the playpen, the blanket on their head, then off… peek-a-boo! This is all math learning, too.
1. Wake Up. 2. Bottle and snuggle. 3. Breakfast. 4. Play time. Understanding daily routines is an essential part of building your budding mathematician’s early math skills. Use words to describe the order of things: “First, I am going to take off your dirty diaper. The second thing I will do is throw it away.”
Give Me a Beat!
Does your baby tap their toes to the beat? Clap along to their favorite song? They’re enjoying the music, but they’re also learning about rhythm — an early mathematical patterning skill. Find songs that are slow, songs that are fast and songs that change pace. A good dance party is also a math party for little learners!
That’s right! Counting is not the only way your child learns about numbers. Breaking crackers or other foods into smaller pieces teaches your little learner what numbers look like and how they work. Say the numbers as you snap a carrot in two, or just line crackers and veggies as you say your numbers.
Ask your toddler how big they are. Then, watch them throw their arms up in the air with an exclamation of “sooooo big!” During play time, ask about different sizes. For example, “What is tiniest thing in the house?” and “What fits in this box?”
One for you, and one for me!
If you ask your toddler to share a cracker, they’ll probably give you one. If you ask for them all, they might not! But that doesn’t mean they doesn’t understand what you’re asking for. They do. They’re beginning to understand the differences between first and last, between some and all. At dinner time, ask: “Who ate all their food first?”, “Who ate their mashed potatoes last?” and “How many of us want dessert?”
The difference between dogs and cats…and other things!
Try this game with your toddler: Ask her to put all her stuffed animals in one pile, all her blankets in another and all her toy cars in another. Chances are, she’ll know exactly what to do! She’s understanding how some things are similar and how others are different. As she learns, notice how eager she is to share that knowledge to you!
More or less.
Your child is beginning to understand and use early math concepts. During the day, add comparison words to family chatter. Some great ones to work in: more, less, some, none, many, big, small, tall, short… “Oh there are none left! We ate all the blueberries. Yum.”
Math is everywhere—even in simple chores! While doing laundry at home, have your child help you sort clothes. Use colors to sort into piles. Then, use the results to build math word skills. Ask her, “which pile has more items? Which pile is bigger, the dark or the light pile?”
And while you’re doing laundry…
Once the laundry is clean, sorting and matching socks lets you mix math and chores. Use descriptive language to invite your child to take the lead on sorting. “Can you find all the tiny white socks? They’re for your baby sister.” “Where is the other giant blue-striped sock for Papa?” The job may take a little longer, but it builds your child’s sense of responsibility and sorting skills!
Mix and measure!
Teaching a child measurement is a great time to share the fun of cooking. And you get to sneak in some math learning, as well! Ask your child to grab measuring cups as you read a recipe out loud. “I need two cups of flour. Can you help me find the one-cup measuring cup?” Pause and read the directions again. “Now, how many times will I need to use it?” Then, let him help with dinner tonight. Or maybe a fun treat tomorrow. Cooking together may be messy, but the joy, learning and memories make it well worth the clean-up time! (Oh, and you can do that part together, too!)
How many are there?
Build number skills before family meals. Ask your child to help you set the table for dinner. “I have five forks. But there are only four seats at the table. Can you put a fork at each place? How many forks do you have left?” Count together if a question feels challenging!
Make a game out of counting and comparing numbers! Understanding numbers and amounts can feel magical to your child. Celebrate counting successes: “You can count to 20! NO WAY!” Encourage comparison alongside counting: “How many rocks did you collect? Fifteen rocks! That means you have more rocks than toes.” The more you play with numbers, the stronger math skills become.
The wonderful world of math.
“The sign says each bag has five avocados. Let’s count them.” Point to numbers in your world. Recognizing numbers from one to ten is part of the normal development for this age. It’s also a skill needed in kindergarten to build toward bigger math skills. At the store, on the road and at home, share how you use numbers to help your child understand why they matter.
Build Your Child’s Brighter Future!
Want to dive deeper into the health your little one? Check out our Play and Learning guidance about math for:
- Babies —Hand clapping is more than just fun for you and your baby.
- One-year-olds — As he continues to make sense of his world, he’s learning the basics of numbers, geometry and measurement.
- Two-year-olds — It’s an exciting new world when all the numbers start making sense. Just ask your toddler!
- Three-year-olds — When she says, “Your feet are the bigger, and mine are smaller,” what she’s really telling you is that she’s compared them both to each other—and that she can measure.
- Pre-K learners — The most important thing you can bring your child in this area now is not a list of facts, but a way of thinking: The belief that math really can be interesting, useful, and even fun.