Early math skills are not only critical to ensuring that your toddler will begin school with the tools he or she needs to perform well academically, they are also the foundation for the development of rational and logical thought processes. Children with an understanding of basic mathematical concepts are better able to see the connections between different objects and ideas, a critical step towards developing the skills necessary for reasoning, reading comprehension and other complex processes.

One of the best ways to foster early math skills in young children is to make numbers and math concepts fun and relate them to everyday experiences. Math is often introduced as abstract rules and operations that children must learn simply because they must know them in order to become successful students. Showing children how they use math in their daily lives and engaging all of their senses when introducing them to math concepts will help cultivate a desire to learn more and create a genuine appreciation for mathematics. 

Early math skills appropriate for children ages 2- and 3-years old include shape sorting, color sorting, and matching. Three and four-year-olds can recognize numbers, count, recognize geometric shapes and patterns, understand some spatial concepts, and identify one-to-one correspondence (the fact that a number represents an amount of something).

The sorting and labeling of geometric shapes and the spatial reasoning that occurs naturally when playing with blocks are good examples of using a classic children’s toy to introduce and reinforce early math skills. Stringing beads helps children learn patterns and reinforces counting. And puzzles help children to identify shapes, how one shape can fit into another, and understand one-to-one correspondence.

The following activities will help you introduce your toddler to the exciting world of math. (Remember: The goal of these activities is to get your child thinking about mathematical concepts.  It does not matter if he or she answers the questions correctly or not.)

Time Games

The concept of time can be very difficult for concrete young minds to understand because they can not see or touch it. One way to help children understand how time passes and that some activities take longer than others is to time them doing different activities.  

½        Use a timer to have your child measure how long it takes to get dressed, brush his teeth or perform other casual tasks.
½        Compare the time it takes to one activity to the time it takes to do another.
½        Set a timer fifteen to thirty minutes before bedtime not only to demonstrate the passage of time but also to help your child mentally prepare him/herself for going to bed.

At the Grocery Store

There are many math-related activities that you can do with your child while in the grocery store:

  • * Look for shapes (i.e. ask your child to point out all of the circles or squares that he or she sees in the store).
  • * Point to the aisle numbers and recite aloud together.
  • * Count how many of each item you are placing in the cart.
  • * Compare prices and discuss larger and smaller numbers.
  • * Compare items that are “heavy” and “light.”
  • * Time your trip to the store and compare the time it takes traveling back and forth.
  • * Discuss and compare the sizes and amounts of certain foods. Ask your child what is too much or too little for your family or an individual.

Here are some books and toys that help introduce math concepts to children.

One, Two, Three! (Boynton on Board)
by Sandra Boynton

(Publisher: Workman Publishing Company) Another popular member of Boynton on Board, a quartet of concept board books, this book’s creative artwork and silly humor make learning to count fun for toddlers.

My Shapes/Mis Formas
by Rebecca Emberley (Author)
Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book
by Karen Katz (Author)

(Publisher: Little Simon) This loving book by the author of “Over the Moon” is a sweet, loving way to learn numbers as a mommy counts the kisses she places on her daughter. “Ten little toes,” she counts as she kisses each one.

Animal 123 Peek Inside Knob Puzzle is a great way to teach young children numbers and is perfectly designed for little hands.  It features amusing, colorful animal pictures beneath each number to increase interest and introduce children to the animal world.  It also hones hand-eye coordination with associative skills. $7.95 at www.StoreforKnowledge.com
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