Toddlers and pre-math

It’s easy to say “Baby is learning something new every day!”

What’s harder for most parents is seeing how the way their toddler plays is going to translate into the way they learn in a more structured, academic way when they are older. It’s true, though – even clambering around on the jungle gym at the playground is helping Baby build their pre-math skills. Activities Baby might already love, that will help them build pre-math skills include:

  • Active play: Play that revolves around running, jumping, climbing, and other active, full-body activities help toddlers build their spatial awareness, and their understanding of speed, size, and proportion.
  • Bathtime: If the bath toys in your household include different sized and shaped containers, every time they get clean is a chance for your toddler to learn about proportions and measurements, just by watching the way the same amount of water might fill different containers to different levels, or how one container can hold more water than another.
  • Sorting and classifying: Whether it’s sorting blocks by color or putting shapes into a box through the hole that’s the matching shape, looking for similarities and differences, and understanding categorization is an important early step for logical thinking.

How can I encourage Baby to build pre-math skills?

The best thing about the way Baby learns is that you don’t really have to force much. Just giving them the space and free-play time to explore the world around them at their own pace is all Baby needs to start to learn the things – like spatial awareness, quantities, proportions, and even the basics behind adding and subtracting – that they will need when they are finally ready to start to learn more formally. With a little time and space to explore, Baby’s own curiosity, and the basic feedback they get from their senses, will do the rest.

Baby learns most of the things they need to know at this point just by watching, and listening to, the world around them, but you have influence over a lot of the things they see and hears. Baby doesn’t need any kind of formal instruction at this point – and they wouldn’t necessarily benefit from it, either. You can start to work certain words and ideas into the way you talk about the world, though. It’s not exactly teaching to talk to Baby about the concepts they'll use later, but it does help them start to think in terms that will be helpful to them as they grow.

  • Counting: You don’t need to teach Baby anything for them to start to get the hang of numbers – they can start to learn basic number-words the same way they are learning every word in their vocabulary. When you’re walking outside and you point out objects and landmarks to them, making a point to include some basic number words (“Look, there are two birds! And here comes one more!”) is a great way to get them started.
  • Proportions: You may not know it, but you’ve almost definitely already started introducing Baby to the idea of proportions. Proportion words like “more,” “less,” “all,” “empty,” and “full,” are early concepts needed before counting is going to make sense – a sort of “basic math language”. Comparison words are the concepts behind measurement, adding, and subtracting.

Long before they get to school, most tots start to understand the basic concepts they’ll need for adding and subtracting, and after that, multiplication and division. They’re starting to think of the world in a way that will help them understand numbers. Baby may not look like they're doing much math, but they are already off to a flying start!

  • Carla Poole, Susan A. Miller, Ellen Booth Church. “Ages & Stages: All About Body Awareness.” Scholastic. Scholastic Inc. Web.
  • Jenni Way. “The Development of Spatial and Geometric Thinking.” NRICH. University of Cambridge, February 2011. Web.
  • “Bath Games for Babies & Toddlers.” PBS Parents. PBS. Web.
  • “Help Your Child Develop Early Math Skills.” Zero to Three. ZERO TO THREE: Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families,February 25 2016. Web.
  • “Math Play: How Young Children Approach Math.” Scholastic. Scholastic Inc. Web.
  • “Math Talk with Infants and Toddlers.” naeyc for families. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Web.

Related Topics

Get the Ovia Parenting app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store