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Math Play for Tots

Here’s the biggest non-secret in helping your toddler become a mathematician:


That’s right, just play with your child. The second big non-secret:


That’s it. No expensive electronics, no workbooks. Just the kinds of things moms and dads have been doing for centuries. If there’s any secret, it’s being a little big conscious of the three big building blocks to math knowledge that toddlers can begin to absorb.

  • Patterns. Recognizing patterns are foundational to learning math facts, algebra, geometry—just about everything. Point out patterns you see naturally, such as “Oh, we’re sitting boy, girl, boy, girl.” “Red Duplo, blue Duplo, red Duplo…” Sort cereal and game pieces and toy cars into patterns. Keep it fun, though—let your child’s interest level and not some learning goal drive the activities. Note, too, that children with certain Kidtelligent styles naturally make patterns. Don’t worry if your child isn’t as fascinated!
  • Cardinality. This is a big word that means that numbers stand for a quantity. In contrast, when many children count, they’re just rattling off sounds as with the alphabet. Or, they think “three” means their third finger, when in fact all three fingers they are holding up represent the quantity three. With toddlers, stick to groups of objects under five as you name the quantities. If you’re reading a book, you might say, “Oh, there are two kittens in this picture and three over here. One, two…and one, two, three.”
  • One-to-One Correspondence. This is another big phrase that simple means being able to count objects. Occasionally, count as you go about normal activities with your child. “Let’s see. We need three plates for dinner. Let me get 1, 2, 3 off the shelf.” “One, two books to read now.”

Math isn’t magic. It’s simply a language for describing the world in numbers. And for toddlers, these tiny little steps into that world are not only big enough, but essential for later learning!

By Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is