Learning to Count: A Guide for Introducing Numbers to Toddlers
Children as young as 12 months can start understanding numbers. They may not be doing maths just yet, but they can identify quantities on some level. As a parent, it’s your job to help them improve their numeracy skills.
Introducing numbers may seem difficult, but toddlers are quick learners, especially if you make it fun. We’re here to talk all about how you can encourage early numeracy development for your child. Read on to learn more.
Talk About Maths and Numbers
When your child is first starting to become curious about numbers and patterns, they’re going to learn a lot from you, even if you aren’t intentionally teaching them. Your children listen to everything you say, so make it count!
When you talk to (or even around) your child, make an effort to use numbers. For example, let’s say you’re asking your child about what they want to eat for dessert.
Instead of asking if they want sweets, ask if they want a specific number of sweets while showing them. If you say two sweets, hold up two sweets. This helps your child understand the concept of “two.”
This works for everything. If you’re bringing your child somewhere during the week, instead of telling them “We’re going on Sunday,” say, “We’re going in three days on Sunday.”
Do the same thing when you’re talking to other members of your household if your child is within earshot. They’re always listening and learning at this age, and they can be learning numbers just through simple conversations.
Count Every Day With Your Child
Make an effort to count with your toddler every day. This doesn’t mean that you have to give them lessons. While lessons are helpful, counting outside of the classroom will provide your toddler with more functional knowledge and improve their numeracy skills more quickly.
Here are a few ways you can incorporate counting into your toddler’s day-to-day life.
Cooking with toddlers is a great activity. It bonds them to you, helps prevent picky eating, improves their motor skills, and it can teach them helpful life skills like numeracy in a fun way.
When you’re cooking, have your child don an apron and help you! It will take a little longer, but it’s worthwhile.
When you need an ingredient, ask your toddler to give it to you in the proper quantity. For very young toddlers, you can just show them. For example, say “I’m using two tomatoes” as you’re grabbing both tomatoes. You can also have your child hold them.
Older children can count out the items on their own and hand them to you.
As your child continues to learn, you can start introducing more complex topics. For example, if you need half of an apple, you can show your child the apple as you slice it in half. Your child will learn that one apple turns into two half apples.
Cut up a piece of fruit for your child and have them count the pieces. Then explain that all of those pieces are from one piece of fruit. This can be a bit confusing for small children, but they will slowly understand the concept.
On a Walk
Walking is a great exercise for children. Why not try teaching numbers next time you’re on a walk with your child?
There are a few ways to do this.
First, you could make a list. Write down things that you know you’ll see on the walk as well as specific numbers. Challenge your child to find the things.
For example, you may say you want your child to find three street signs. Every time you pass one, say the number out loud with your child.
You could also use the numbers on houses and mailboxes to count with your child. Point out a number that you see and see if your child can identify it. They may need some help, but that’s okay!
While Cleaning Up
Does your toddler do chores? Chores are good for childhood development. They teach responsibility and they keep toddlers busy. They can also help with counting.
As your child is cleaning up, incorporate counting and sorting.
Give them several baskets for their toys and dirty clothes and tell your child which items go in which baskets. Have your child count each item as it goes into a basket. Count out loud with them to get them started.
Do you take your child shopping with you? There’s no better time for introducing numbers.
Let your child watch you when you pick up items for your shopping trolley. Ask them for “help” from time to time as well.
For example, let’s say you’re buying plums. There are four people in your household and each one wants a plum. Ask your child how many plums you should get and have them “help” you could them as you put them in your bag.
You can also start talking about the concept of money during this time, though this may be too complex for some children.
Games aren’t just for fun. They’re great forms of education for children. Your child can learn to count even through simple board games.
Games are fantastic for early numeracy development because your child will enjoy the learning process. Here are a few ways you can incorporate counting and numeracy into games.
Use Playing Cards
Playing cards are affordable and easy to find. Use them to help your child learn! There are many fun card games that are appropriate for young children.
You will have to help your child with the cards at first. Show them all of the cards and help them memorize what each number looks like. They will make mistakes, but that’s okay!
Incorporate Counting into Normal Games
Even normal games can help with teaching numbers with a few small modifications.
Let’s say you’re playing catch with your child. Have them count how many times they can catch the ball without missing it. Every time your child catches the ball, they say a number.
Play Board Games
Child-friendly board games are fantastic for any parent trying to teach numbers to toddlers. Stick with simple board games for the best results. Move on to more complex games once your child has a firm grasp on basic numeracy.
In simple board games, your child will usually have to roll a die and move their character a set number of spaces. Before they understand numbers, this may frustrate them. That’s why you’re there to help!
Have your child move their character piece one spot at a time, saying each number one-by-one until they reach their destination. Make an active effort to go slow so your child truly understands how each number corresponds to how they’re moving their character piece.
Play With Blocks
Challenge your child to play with blocks. Find a toy in their toybox and tell them to build a tower that’s taller than the toy. When they build a successful tower, have them count how many pieces were required to build it.
You may have to help them.
Sing Songs or Read Poems
Part of numeracy is recognising patterns. Use poems and songs to build your child’s pattern recognition abilities.
When a song is playing, have your child clap along to the beat. Have them count out their claps as well. When they start to understand the pattern of the song, have them try to do it without the song playing.
Use measuring tools to teach numbers. This is a great way to explain numbers in a functional way.
Start by measuring your toddler with a tape measure. Then, have your toddler measure things (or even other people) around the house. This helps your child understand relative sizes, or in this case, how different numbers relate to one another.
To make it even more complicated, consider finding ways to fit numbers inside each other. For example, if your family dog is half the height of your toddler, try to explain the concept that your toddler is the equivalent height of two dogs.
There are many children’s books that explain numbers in easy-to-understand ways. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Those books are powerful tools.
Even if the book isn’t specifically for learning numbers, you can use a standard picture book for teaching purposes. Have your child count the pictures on the page, or even the pages themselves.
Ask Questions to Assess Progress
Keep using numbers in conversation. Several times per day, ask your child questions about numbers to gauge their understanding.
If your child asks for a snack, have them ask how many of a certain snack they want. If you’re putting up their hair, ask how many ponytails they want to have.
Any time you can incorporate numbers is beneficial when your child is first learning to count.
Learning to Count Can Be Fun for Toddlers
Introducing numbers to toddlers is easy. You use them every day. As long as you talk to your toddler and incorporate numeracy when you’re playing games and going about your daily activities, you’ll be shocked at how quickly they learn!
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