How to introduce maths to your toddler

Playful ways to learn are everywhere

UNICEF
A baby plays during routine a check up with the pediatrician in Belmopan, Belize.
UNICEF/UN0498261/Cus
12 February 2022

👉 Follow us on our WhatsApp channel: UNICEF Parenting Portal for more tips.


You may also be interested in: Parenting | Food and nutrition | Early learning | Nurturing care | Health | Security and protection | Short masterclasses for parents and caregivers

Introducing maths to your child doesn’t have to be difficult. Without even noticing it, we use mathematical language all the time – from using size comparison words like ‘big’ and ‘little’ to counting the number of utensils to put out for a family meal.

Here are some simple (and fun!) ways to start thinking and talking about maths skills with your little one.

Point to shapes

Talk with your child about the shapes you see around you. Maybe on your walk together you notice a round stone or a square sign. “Look, the door on that house is a red rectangle!” Introducing these basic spatial sense skills – the concepts of shape, size, space and direction – will help your child later on in school when they start geometry.

Count it out

Find some small objects – such as shells or beads – to count together out loud. “Look! We have one, two, three, four, five orange beads.” You can also separate them into groups. “Let’s make three piles of three buttons.” This is a great way to introduce the concepts of numbers and operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). You don’t only need objects to learn how to count – you could also work on counting with your little one by counting out loud how many steps they take or how many times they clap their hands.

Play a sorting game

Recognizing patterns and relationships lays the foundation for learning equations later in life. To introduce these concepts to your toddler in a playful way, try playing a sorting game with objects around your house. “Let’s put the red lentils in one basket and the green lentils in the other basket.” You can also lay the objects out in a pattern. “Let’s make a row of lentils: red, green, red, green.”

Have fun in the kitchen

Cooking together is a great opportunity for your child to explore measurement and counting. Make sure to give them age-appropriate tasks and to supervise them closely while you create your culinary masterpiece! Talk about how much rice you need for your meal and show them how you measure it out. If you’re making a snack, count out the food items on your plate: “There are one, two, three, four berries in our snack.” 

Build a tower

Stacking objects helps young children to learn about estimating size and understanding the relationship between different sized objects. To make a tower together, you could use blocks, empty boxes, empty cartons or other child-safe objects you have around the house that will stack well. Talk about how the pieces fit on top of one another and if the tower falls, why that happened. See how high you can go!

Compare and contrast

Take notice of the sizes of objects you see in comparison to one another. A market or food store are great places to do this together. “This mango is much bigger than that one.” You can also ask your child to point out which item they think is smaller or larger. This helps your toddler to work on building those important spatial sense and measurement skills.