teach your toddler math

How to Teach Your Toddler Math?

You are wondering how to teach math to toddlers? Teaching math to your children is as easy as 1+1=2. Go beyond pencil and paper to make math a learning experience that’s fun for you and your kids. 

From around 2, your child is developmentally ready to understand the one-to-one relationship between a numeral and objects. He knows, for instance, that two is more than one.

Children are using early math skills throughout their daily routines and activities. This is good news as these skills are essential for being ready for school. But early math doesn’t mean taking out the calculator during playtime. 

Even before they start school, most children develop an understanding of addition and subtraction through everyday interactions. 

For example, Thomas has two cars; Joseph wants one. After Thomas shares one, he sees that he has one car left. 

Other math skills are introduced through daily routines you share with your child—counting steps as you go up or down, for example. 

Informal activities like this one give children a jumpstart on the formal math instruction that starts in school.

What math knowledge will your child need later on in elementary school? Early mathematical concepts and skills that first-grade mathematics curriculum builds on include:

  • Understanding size, shape, and patterns
  • Ability to count verbally (first forward, then backward)
  • Recognising numerals
  • Identifying more and less of a quantity
  • Understanding one-to-one correspondence (i.e., matching sets, or knowing which group has four and which has five)

Before they start school, most children develop an understanding of addition and subtraction through everyday interactions. 

These quick and easy strategies help you teach your kids math and will turn them into mini mathematicians.

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Essential Maths Skills for School

More advanced mathematical skills are based on an early math “foundation”—just like a house is built on a solid foundation. 

In the toddler years, you can help your child begin to develop early math skills by introducing ideas like: 

Number Sense

This is the ability to count accurately—first forward. Then, later in school, children will learn to count backwards. 

A more complex skill related to number sense is seeing relationships between numbers—like adding and subtracting. 


They make mathematical ideas “real” by using words, pictures, symbols, and objects (like blocks). 

Spatial Sense

Later in school, children will call this “geometry.” But for toddlers, it is introducing the ideas of shape, size, space, position, direction and movement. 


Technically, this is finding the length, height, and weight of an object using units like inches, feet or pounds. Measurement of time (in minutes, for example) also falls under this skill area. 


This is the ability to make a good guess about the amount or size of something. This is very difficult for young children to do. You can help them by showing them the meaning of words like more, less, more significant, smaller, and less.


Patterns are things—numbers, shapes, images—that repeat in a logical way. Patterns help children learn to make predictions, understand what comes next, make logical connections, and use reasoning skills. 


The ability to think through a problem, to recognise there is more than one path to the answer. It means using past knowledge and logical thinking skills to find a solution. 

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What You Can Do

The tips below highlight ways to help your child learn early math skills by building on their natural curiosity and having fun together.

Start With Counting

Teaching math begins with your child knowing numbers. You can help them learn to count with the same strategies you’ll use to teach them math.

Children may respond better to memorising numbers you repeat or may pick up numbers by seeing you count objects from one to ten. A method that may work for one of your children might not be suitable for another. Gauge each child individually.

Once your child begins counting, you’re ready to start with some basic math principles. They’ll be adding and subtracting before you know it.

Use Everyday Objects

You already have everything you need to begin teaching math to your child. Buttons, pennies, money, books, fruit, soup cans, trees, cars — you can count the objects you have available. Math is easy to teach when you look at all material things; you can trust, add, subtract, and multiply.

Everyday objects also help you teach your child that things don’t have to be identical to be important in math. Counting apples is a great math lesson, but counting apples, oranges, and watermelons together expand the thought process. The child connects depending on various objects instead of running through a routine numbers game of 1, 2, 3.

Play Math Games

There are plenty of games on the market that promise to aid you in teaching math. The game Chutes and Ladders introduces children to the numbers 1 to 100. Hi Ho Cherry-O, and adding dice lead to simple addition.

Advanced math board games come and go, so check stores for today’s hot games. Classics like Yahtzee, PayDay, Life, and Monopoly are always good resources for addition and subtraction.

Some of the best math games come from your imagination. Begin basic counting skills with blocks. Play a math scavenger hunt. Use chalk to scribble numbers on the driveway and quiz your kids with math questions they have to answer by running to the correct number. Math can become an activity they enjoy rather than an educational drill.

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Bake Cookies

Soft cookies make excellent teaching tools. While you can count the cookies you bake for simple math, a fresh batch is also perfect for teaching fractions.

Kids can learn how to cut a cookie into eighths, fourths, and halves with a plastic knife. The act of visually seeing a fourth created and them getting to cut that whole into fourths makes an impression in a child’s mind.

Use those small cookie pieces to teach your child how to add and subtract fractions. For example, 1/4 of a cookie + 1/4 of a cookie = 1/2 of a cookie. Put the pieces together so they can see the cookie half.

An alternative to baking cookies is to use raw cookie dough or make your play dough. Of course, you can’t eat your fractions when you’re finished learning math, but you can reuse the cookie dough or moulding clay.

Invest in an Abacus

Even the most petite hands love sliding abacus beads back and forth along the wire. An abacus can be used to teach kids addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

With an abacus, kids develop problem-solving skills. There’s a logic behind using an abacus, so be sure you know what group of numbers each coloured bead represents to use it accurately.

Test Flash Cards

Flashcards can show you what 2+2 equals, but letting kids get hands-on experience with counting may work better. Evaluate your child’s learning preferences by trying both flashcards and hands-on experience.

Some children learn better by seeing the answer on a card or counting pictures on a card. Others won’t truly get the concept of math until you let them count physical objects. Mix up your math lessons to see which method seems to be working best for your child.

Make Math a Daily Activity

Use math in your day-to-day routine. Please help your child get the most out of your math lessons when you incorporate them into your daily life while setting goals they can achieve.

  • At a red light, how many blue cars do you see?
  • How many boxes of crackers could we buy at the grocery store if we only have $10?
  • How many kids will be left in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when three are called to the back?
  • If we only ate 1/4 of our lunch, how much would we have left?
  • How much will diapers cost if they’re 25 per cent off?
  • On the freeway, how much do the numbers on the license plate in front of us add up to?
  • How many shirts are you putting into the washing machine?
  • If you need to divide eight quarters among four people at the arcade, how many quarters would each person get?

Count Together

Learning to count is an excellent introduction to mathematics for toddlers. Counting fingers and toes from one to ten is particularly fun when accompanied by rhymes such as “one, two, buckle my shoe.” 

Sort Objects

To help your child understand groups, you can sort things based on category. For instance, have him separate his toy cars from his toy aeroplanes and count how many are in each group.

Set the Table

Teach your child that mathematics has real-life applications too! Setting one plate (preferably non-breakable) for one person, two cups for two people, and so on helps your toddler learn essential skills.

Name Shapes

The naming of shapes is fundamental to your child’s understanding of math. Play a game of finding squares and circles around the house (for example, point out your circular clock, square blocks, etc.) Also, show how triangles can fit together to make a square.

Teach Spatial Relationships

Play games that teach the concepts of “near and far” or “under and over.” (For example: Walk towards me when I say “near,” and backwards when I say “far.” Climb over the chair and under the table.) Also, let your toddler practice volume and quantity by filling cups with water or sand and transferring contents from one container to another.

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Compare Sizes

Here’s a math game for toddlers that teaches size: Ask your child to gather his stuffed animals, then line them up from smallest to largest. You can also encourage your child to stretch as big as he can and then curl up to make himself tiny.

Teach Patterns

Patterns are also an important math concept for toddlers. Let your child arrange blocks in alternating colour or shape patterns.

Use Math Concept Words

Phrases that denote quantity, like “a lot” and “a few,” begin to take on meaning when used in everyday conversations. Make a point to include these phrases while grocery shopping, eating dinner, and playing games.

Shape Up.

Play with shape-sorters. Make your shapes by cutting large shapes out of coloured construction paper. Talk with your child about each body—count the sides, describe the colours. Ask your child to “hop on the circle” or “jump on the red shape.”

Count and Sort.

Gather together a basket of small toys, shells, pebbles or buttons. Count them with your child. Sort them based on size, colour, or what they do (i.e., all the cars in one pile, all the animals in another).

Place the Call.

With your 3-year-old, begin teaching her the address and phone number of your home. Please talk with your child about how each house has a number and how their house or apartment is one of a series, each with its number.

What Size Is It?

Notice the sizes of objects in the world around you: That pink pocketbook is the biggest. The blue bag is the smallest. Ask your child to think about his size relative to other objects (“Do you fit under the table? Under the chair?”).

You’re Cookin’ Now!

Even young children can help fill, stir, and pour. Children learn, quite naturally, to count, measure, add and estimate through these activities.

Walk it Off.

Taking a walk gives children many opportunities to compare (which stone is more significant?), assess (how many acorns did we find?), note similarities and differences (does the duck have fur as the bunny does?) and categorise (see if you can find some red leaves). You can also talk about size (by taking big and little steps), estimate distance (is the park close to our house or far away?), and practice counting (let’s count how many steps until we get to the corner).

Picture Time.

Use an hourglass, stopwatch, or timer to time short (1–3 minute) activities. This helps children develop a sense of time and to understand that some things take longer than others.

Shape Up.

Point out the different shapes and colours you see during the day. On a walk, you may see a triangle-shaped sign that’s yellow. Inside a store, you may see a rectangle-shaped sign that’s red.

Read and Sing Your Numbers.

Sing songs that rhyme, repeat, or have numbers in them. Songs reinforce patterns (which is a math skill as well). They also are fun ways to practice language and foster social skills like cooperation.

Start Today.

Use a calendar to talk about the date, the day of the week, and the weather. Calendars reinforce counting, sequences, and patterns. 

Build logical thinking skills by talking about cold weather and asking your child: What do we wear when it’s cold? This encourages your child to link cold weather and warm clothing.

Pass it Around.

Ask for your child’s help in distributing items like snacks or laying napkins out on the dinner table. Help him give one cracker to each child. 

This helps children understand one-to-one correspondence. When you are distributing items, emphasise the number concept: “One for you, one for me, one for Daddy.” Or, “We are putting on our shoes: One, two.”

Big on Blocks.

Give your child the chance to play with wooden blocks, plastic interlocking blocks, empty boxes, milk cartons, etc. 

Stacking and manipulating these toys help children learn about shapes and the relationships between bodies (e.g., two triangles make a square). 

Nesting boxes and cups for younger children help them understand the relationship between different sized objects.

Tunnel Time.

Open a large cardboard box at each end to turn it into a tunnel. This helps children understand where their body is in space and relation to other objects.

The Long and the Short of It.

Cut a few (3–5) pieces of ribbon, yarn or paper into different lengths. Talk about ideas like long and short. With your child, put in order of longest to shortest.

Learn Through Touch.

Cut shapes—circle, square, triangle—out of sturdy cardboard. Let your child touch the shape with her eyes open and then closed.

Pattern Play.

Have fun with patterns by letting children arrange dry macaroni, chunky beads, different types of dry cereal, or pieces of paper in other ways or designs. 

Supervise your child carefully during this activity to prevent choking, and put away all items when you are done.

Laundry Learning.

Make household jobs fun. As you sort the laundry, ask your child to make a pile of shirts and a pile of socks. More prominent together, count how many shirts. See if he can make pairs of socks: Can you take two socks out and put them in their pile? (Don’t worry if they don’t match! This activity is more about counting than matching.) Ask him which bank is the more significant (estimation).

Playground Math.

As your child plays, make comparisons based on height (high/low), position (over/under), or size (big/tiny).

Dress for Math Success.

Ask your child to pick out a shirt for the day. Ask: What colour is your shirt? Yes, yellow. Can you find something in your room that is also yellow? 

As your child nears three and beyond, notice patterns in his clothing—like stripes, colours, shapes, or pictures: I see a design on your shirt. 

Some stripes go red, blue, red, blue. Or, Your shirt is covered with ponies—a big pony next to a bit of pony, all over your shirt!

Graphing Games.

As your child nears three and beyond, make a chart where your child can put a sticker each time it rains, or each time it is sunny. 

At the end of a week, you can estimate together which column has more or fewer stickers and count how many to be sure.

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