I have been an elementary teacher for over thirteen years. There is quite a big dispute right now about the proper way to teach math. Throughout my thirteen years, I have used eight completely different programs for math curriculum. Parents and kids alike are frustrated with the constant changes to the way they are supposed to solve math problems. However, there is one thing that will help your child learn math and be successful in mathematics for their entire lives.
Ready for it? The one thing that will help your child solve just about any math problem is…number sense. Number sense is basically the ability to understand what numbers mean and how they relate to one another. In practice, it means that a student is able to use mental math, apply numbers to new situations, and solve real world applicable problems. Guess what? You can start teaching your toddler number sense NOW!
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How to Teach Your Toddler Number Sense
1. Count Everything
It is so important for your child to hear your inner monologue, as it helps develop their vocabulary. The same goes for counting. Do it aloud! You can count the stairs as you climb up and down, count fingers and toes, count the number of diapers you change in a day! Count it all and say it aloud.
It will take time for your child to learn 1:1 correspondence. The best way to tackle this important skill is with practice and repetition. For example, you can use counting bears and model touching and counting up to ten bears. You could also grab a handful of bears of different colors, shake them up, and ask your child to sort by color and then count. I also like to line up the bears, by color, from ten bears to one, to demonstrate what “ten” bears look like compared to “one”.
2. Match It!
Toddlers love matching games! Matching is also a great way to teach number recognition, counting, and number sense. Since toddlers also love Cheerios and playing with their food, I like to give my daughter a little morning match game. I place a small bowl full of Cheerios on the table. Then, I draw groups of Cheerios, one to ten, on a large piece of construction paper. I make sure to write both the number word and the digit on the paper. My daughter loves matching the Cheerios to my circles, although not all make it to the paper!
Matching puzzles are also great because your child is able to practice their fine motor skills while learning to count. The object is to match the digit to the correct number of objects. If it is a match, it will fit like a glove! This is also helpful in teaching your child to self-correct because if it is not a match, the puzzle pieces will not fit together.
3. Sing Counting Songs and Rhymes
Even with fourth graders, my co-teacher and I love to incorporate music and rhymes into our teaching. The sillier it is, the easier it is to remember! Toddlers love a catchy tune unlike any other age group. While I tell you that these are fun and promote learning, I warn you that you will be singing “Five Little Monkeys” until you fall off the bed and bump on your head!
Here is a list of classic counting songs and rhymes to teach your little mathematician!
4. Incorporate Literacy
Reading and math go to together like a peanut butter and jelly crustless sandwich. Eventually, your child’s reading skills will largely impact their math abilities. There is so much reading in math! If you can start incorporating literacy and math now, you will thank yourself later!
I love this series of math books by Stuart J. Murphy more than I can describe. These books have been well-loved and well-read by all of my students. Guess what? He has created a series just for preschool aged kids!
Just Enough Carrots (Comparing Numbers) by Stuart J. Murphy
A rabbit and his mother go to the grocery store and pick out items. Then, they compare the items they have chosen to that of other shoppers. Do they have “more” carrots and “fewer” worms? The vocabulary alone in this book is great! Even better, this is a story that you can continue to practice with the vocabulary in real life!
Every Buddy Counts (Counting) by Stuart J. Murphy
Your little one can practice counting cute little critters in this counting book. The illustrations are wonderful. You just want to count all of your pets and stuffed animals after reading!
Jack the Builder (Counting On) by Stuart J. Murphy
I love this book because you read this book AND use hands on materials to illustrate the concept. The main character, Jack, uses the strategy of counting on to build towers. So, get out those Legos and put this idea into practice! Start with the number one and practice identifying “one” of various objects. Then, you can use this book to emphasize the idea that every time you add “one more” your number grows. This is great to use with Legos because your child can see that their tower gets bigger each time you add one, just like Jack’s! This is great for counting, but also builds the foundation for the addition later on!
5. Get All Hands on Deck!
Hands-on learning is the way to go. Don’t just take my word for it! Go ask your kids! Children want to get their hands on things and explore. It is the way they learn, especially as a young child. Even as a virtual teacher, I strive to find ways for my students to get their “hands” on the material because I know that it will make all of the difference in their comprehension of the subject matter.
Ready to get all hands on deck? Here are some easy ways to help your toddler get their hands dirty in math!
- Play Connect Four: My two-year-old can count from one to ten and she does recognize the appropriate number of objects for each number…with the exception of the number “four”. She counts, “One, two, three, five, five…” Better still when I ask, “What happened to four?” My daughter responds, “No, mama. Two fives.” Determined to help her find four, we started playing Connect Four and she gets it! Plus, it’s fun and hands on! You could even modify it and make it “Connect Two” or “Connect Three”.
- Use an Abacus: Practice counting AND comparing numbers with an abacus. I love Melissa and Doug products and this one comes with some great extension activities.
- Unifix Cubes– There have been years where the only math material I had were several sets of unifix cubes and I was able to teach math. Seriously, you can do anything with these babies! You can use them to count, sort, add, and subtract. Your little one can create patterns and even measure household objects! Best of all, you will be able to use these from preschool through middle school. It is the math resource that just keeps giving!