What do toddlers know about math?

Discover the math skills your child may be ready to explore.

Learning Stages

Toddlers are ready to explore a number of important mathematics concepts. At this stage, the goal is to investigate, rather than to master, these ideas and skills.

  • Shapes: Shapes are a fun early mathematics introduction for toddlers. Toddlers love to learn to label objects and quickly remember "circle, square and triangle." Go on a scavenger hunt for these shapes in the home and draw shapes with your toddler. Shape sorters and puzzles are great for developing the spatial sense that essential to geometry.
  • Counting: Toddlers may begin counting without even understanding the concept of numbers. Much like toddlers sing the Alphabet Song, they will count along with you or sing a number song. Older toddlers will actually begin to count objects, though they may habitually mix-up or skip certain numbers. My toddler is fond of shouting out, "One, two...SIX!" because it gets a big laugh from his older brother and sister. Counting provides the basis of addition and more complex operations.
  • Number recognition: Just as with letters, toddlers can begin to recognize that certain squiggles and lines represent numbers. This is especially likely if they encounter numbers during daily activities (like pressing a button in the elevator, looking at a digital clock, or marking depth at a pool).
  • More than/Less than: Studies have shown that even infants have a basic sense of "more" and "less." Put out two piles of a favorite snack and ask, "Which pile would you like?" If the toddler chooses the pile with more, say, "You must really like these! You chose more!"
  • Patterns: Children enjoy finding and making patterns and toddlers are ready to recognize simple A-B-A-B patterns. Make color or shape patterns with blocks or have fun creating art. Patterns are everywhere, including in nature and in the rhythms of the day. Toddlers may notice that it is daytime, then nighttime, then daytime again.
  • Measurement: Toddlers love tools and will mimic parents cooking and home repair efforts. Let them use measuring cups and rulers in their games. Involve them in measuring ingredients for baking.

Remember that at this stage, everything should be a game. Use math manipulatives to explore these concepts in a hands-on way and make math an every day part of life.