Introducing Maths to Toddlers
Believe it or not, toddlers are natural mathematicians.!They receive their earliest maths lessons with everyday activities that take place at home. A simple thing like breaking two biscuits into four pieces so that each of their three friends and they get a piece is a maths lesson. They learn about volume when they fill a glass with lemonade or about different sizes when they compare the heights of family members. This is the ideal time to encourage a toddler’s curiosity about the basic topics of maths and show that maths is everywhere that they look in their lives.
This curiosity should be sustained through their school years as in today’s digital world, basic maths concepts are something you cannot do without. And if your toddler hopes to one day become an entrepreneur, coder or engineer they need to have a very strong foundation in maths. As a parent, you can foster a love for maths by knowing how to teach maths in an interesting way, that is through play and exploration.
What Does a Toddler’s Maths Skills Involve
Children learn best through play. Your toddler first encounters numbers through simple games like hide and seek. As the seeker counts — 1, 2, 3 — your toddler will perceive that these numbers follow a sequence though they don’t really understand the value of each number. This connection which develops early numeracy skills happens naturally through play without a formal lesson and provides a strong foundation for learning mathematics in school and acquiring a basic knowledge of maths.
- Number sense is the ability to count forwards and backwards and builds the foundation for addition and subtraction in the future. Simple games can develop number sense — Let’s count the buttons on your dress, your teddy bear has 1, 2 eyes or “you have 1, 2, 3 toys and I have 1, 2 toys. You have more toys.”
- Spatial sense involves identifying shapes, sizes, directions, positions, and movement, which are basic maths concepts they will require when they learn geometry later. You can describe objects by their shape — this is a round ball — or introduce the idea of positions between objects — he’s sitting under the table or sitting next to your brother.
- The concept of measurement is introduced when your toddler realises that things have a different size or shape and begins to make decisions and comparisons — I can’t sit on this chair, it’s too small or the red ball is bigger than the blue one. You can’t carry that, it’s too heavy or I have been waiting for a long time.
- Estimation is developed by playing guessing games — how many biscuits do you think are left in the packet? Though these games seem to be just about fun, they are actually your toddler’s brain to make logical estimations based on limited knowledge.
- Patterns in maths aren’t restricted to colours and shapes your shirt has red stripes — it also includes recognising patterns in their daily routine. For example, when the child is used to a parent coming home at a certain time and they are late, your child may ask, “Where’s mummy?” It is also the first step of reasoning, making logical connections and learning the concepts of multiplication and division.
- Problem solving begins when your toddler plays with a shape sorter. Trying to fit different shapes into the correct holes teaches them about trial and error without even realising.
How to Teach Maths in an Interesting Way to Toddlers
- You can begin with simple everyday activities at the age of one, like playing counting games, singing songs about numbers and introducing basic shapes.
- Once your toddler is two years old, you can try teaching simple addition and subtraction by using biscuits or building blocks.
- While talking to your toddler, you can introduce basic topics of maths. If you ask them for 4 blocks and if they give you 5, you can point out that it’s one more than what you had asked for. This helps them to recognise quantities.
- Toddlers can help to sort and then count blocks or plastic utensils at home by size, colour and type.
- Describe a colour, type or pattern of clothing and ask them to bring it to you. Or ask your toddler to match different pairs of socks.
- At bath time, they can sort or count toys in the tub.
- Take them on a nature walk to gather leaves or stones and ask them to sort them by size, shape and colour. If there are more children you can give them a colour and see who can collect the most items of that colour.
- Teach your child to notice the different shapes they see around them, like a rectangular door, a square tile or a round stone. You can do this with sizes as well, like pointing out that one stone is bigger or smaller than the other. These basic spatial skills where they develop the concepts of size, shape, directions, positions and movement will help them in school when they start studying geometry.
- Give them small objects like buttons or shells and loudly count them together — there are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 green buttons or let’s make 4 piles of 3 buttons each. This is an introduction to numbers and addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
- Cooking together is a great way for toddlers to learn counting and Tell them how much flour you need for a meal and show them how to measure it. With snacks, you can count out the food items on your plate.
- Identifying patterns helps them with equations later in life. Try playing a sorting game with objects around the home — put the red blocks in one basket and the blue in another. Or, you can make a pattern — let’s make a row of red and blue blocks.
- Encourage them to stack objects and build a tower. This helps them to learn about size estimates and understanding the relationship between different sized objects. You could use building blocks or empty cartons around the house for stacking.
- Teach them to compare and contrast by noticing the sizes of objects in comparison to one another. At a department store, you can also ask your toddler to point out smaller or larger items. This develops measurement skills and spatial sense.
Most of us have learnt maths through memorising and drilling and if your toddler has a good memory, you may be tempted to do the same. This may not be a good idea as when they approach maths through rote learning, they are not able to hone their number sense. Even when they are older, if they have to answer a question like 8 x 8, they may not be able to answer unless they have memorised the multiplication tables. Compared to that, a child with number sense would mentally multiply 8×10 and then subtract 16 from it. Maths skills are best learned through play and hands-on activities, as that develops a true understanding of numbers. Visit the EuroKids website for more information on how to introduce maths to your toddler.