4 Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Preschool Math Skills

Expose your little one to numbers and shapes early and often.

Parents are always asking teachers how they can set their kids up for success in school, but more often than not, math is the subject in question.

The answer may be more simple than you think: you can help your toddler begin to develop foundational preschool math skills through fun and play

With exposure, time and a little effort, all kids can be successful in preschool math (don’t buy into the misconception that only some people are good at math).  

Here are four math concepts and principles you can introduce to your young children:

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4 Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Preschool Math Skills

1.  Expose your infant to geometric shapes early and often. 

Create, print, or purchase an inexpensive set of colored shapes that include objects such as circles, squares, triangles, hexagons, and stars.  State what each shape is, and then describe some of their defining characteristics.  If you do this on a regular basis, your child will soon be able to identify them herself. 

Continue to reinforce the geometric shapes by drawing them on a Magna Doodle or on your driveway with sidewalk chalk.  See if you can get to a point where your toddler can identify the shapes and even trace or draw them on their own. 

2.  When children are about 12 months old, start reciting numbers with them. 

Start by counting to 5.  Count 5 fingers or rocks or shoes... and everything else that is part of their little world.  Once they have mastered counting to 5 in the correct order (without skipping numbers), then practice counting to 10. 

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Keep counting to larger numbers and, before you know it, they will be able to count to 20 or 30.  Your toddler probably won’t fully understand what the numbers mean until he is 3 (or older), but the ability to simply recite the numbers is foundational to counting. 

3. Begin to teach them to count using one-to-one correspondence. 

While this skill is much more difficult for toddlers to grasp, teach them to count items once and only once.  For example, ask them to count the fingers on one hand.  Touch each finger and move it from the up position to the down position as they count each one. 

You could also count 5 acorns that are lined up in a row.  As you count each acorn, move it up so your child knows it is in the newly formed “already counted” row.  Then as you count the next acorn, move it from the “to be counted” row to the “already counted” row.

4.  Help your toddler to recognize and identify the numbers 1 through 9. 

At your local library, find books with limited text that focus on counting, such as Sandra Boynton’s book “One, Two, Three”. 

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You can also use cards with numbers and the corresponding amount of items on them (available here) and talk about what the numbers look like.  (For example, a two is curved at the top with a straight bottom or an 8 has two circles).  Use the cards as a puzzle where your child can match the number with the picture that has the corresponding amount of objects on it.  We also write numbers on our driveway with sidewalk chalk and even create a hopscotch game to help reinforce number recognition. 

Repeatedly try these four simple strategies with your toddler, and you will help set her up for success in preschool math and beyond!

For more advice on how to get your Children ready for Kindergarten, you can read these articles:


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Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Dr. Jeff & Annie Wiesman are coauthors of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” Jeff is an associate professor of education who mentors future elementary school teachers, and Annie has numerous years of experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. They reside in New York with their five-year-old daughter.

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