Teaching math to toddlers can be more fun than you think. In early childhood education, the math skills children learn are at their most basic form, focusing on concepts rather than numbers and formulas. These abstract ideas are the foundation of all other mathematic skills, which makes math for toddlers very important! Of course, that doesn’t mean learning it has to be overly serious. Math games for toddlers make learning these ideas fun, which makes it easier for children to learn and remember them. Meanwhile, hands-on math activities help make applying them to other math concepts easier.
Some of the primary math concepts young children learn are matching, shapes, and, of course, counting. Kathy Charner, Maureen Murphy, and Charlie Clark’s address these concepts and more in their book The Encyclopedia of Infant and Toddler Activities. Here are a few of their math activities for toddlers, as well as more information on the mathematical concepts they teach.
Matching is an important skill for many subjects. Mastery of matching demonstrates that a child is able to recognize two objects as the same and group them together. This recognition of sameness can be applied to numbers in mathematics. For a child to recognize that 2 always signifies two things, they must understand that the symbol 2 matches every other symbol 2 in meaning. The grouping concept also is vital, especially to addition, subtraction, and any other arithmetic function; if a child can group two similar things together they have the foundation to be able to group three and five to get eight. While a simple concept, matching is very important to understanding numbers and how we use them.
- Photographs of the children and their parents (two of each)
- Contact paper
- Child-safe scissors
- Cover the photographs (one of each) with contact paper
- Give each child one of the photographs and show them the matching photograph on the contact paper
- Mix up the photographs and see if the children can find their matches on their own
Learning shapes helps build math skills that are applicable to daily life. When children first begin using blocks, they learn to recognize how shapes look. At this age, teachers also tend to use shapes to illustrate concepts of size. Once these skills are accomplished, a whole bunch of uses for shapes open up. Children can recognize shapes in everyday life and use that knowledge to solve problems: Is this rectangular piece of paper going to fit on a square desk? Will this round ball go into that square hole? Basic shapes—rectangles, circles, and triangles—also provide the building blocks for more complex shapes, which makes this early learning invaluable when higher level geometry is introduced later in school.
- Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban
- Construction paper cut into a variety of shapes
- Read Tana Hoban’s book to the children
- Give each child one of the paper shapes and ask them to find something in the room that is the same shape
- Take photographs of the shapes the children find in the classroom. Glue them to pieces of paper and have the children dictate their descriptions to you, then compile them in a book of your own
This one is easy to understand! Counting is the root of all other numerical math skills. In early childhood education, counting is what gives numbers their significance—i.e. “There are four sheep in the field. How do I know? Because I count one, two, three, four.” When children practice counting, they learn to assign the name of a number with a visual idea of its meaning. Once the numbers have meaning, children can begin to use them in the ways we normally associate with math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and so on.
- 12 colorful plastic eggs
- A basket
- An empty egg carton
- Put the eggs in the basket and place the basket and empty egg carton on the floor
- Let the children explore the eggs for a few minutes. Encourage them to put the eggs in the carton, but make sure they return them to the basket
- Together, count the eggs as the children place them in the carton. Ask questions like, “Is the basket full? Is it empty?”