In this article, you will discover the importance of numbers for toddlers and when to start teaching numbers. There are 25 games and activities, together with free printables and a PowerPoint Game to help children practice numbers in a fun way.
I started counting and pointing to numbers for my toddler since he was about 3 months. He enjoyed the moments spent together reading so much that I read to him a great variety of baby books. One that he loved most was a cardboard book of numbers and objects, very colourful and easy to manipulate.
Teaching numbers to babies is not utterly preposterous as Marshall might say( wink Paw Patrol fans). It is in fact recommended! According to this article from Scholastic on how babies learn numbers, babies are quite sensitive to quantity. Apparently, we are born with an innate sense of number.
You can read about it in “The Mathematical Brain” by Brian Butterworth. Therefore, the concept of numbers for toddlers should be presented in the form of everyday activities so that through constant repetition you teach them number words just like to teach them any other vocabulary.
Practice Number Words With Babies
Some activities that you could try with your baby at home would be:
- counting his toes and fingers
- singing a numbers song; my baby loved the one from Happy House. I used my fingers and I wiggled and clapped, and he was very happy. The song goes like this:
“1,2,3, 3 three little fingers
4,5,6, 6 little fingers
7,8, 9, 9 little fingers
10 little fingers,
Clap clap clap”
- pointing to numbers in a book. There are plenty of baby’s first words books, make sure to choose one with numbers too. Try to choose one that the baby can easily manipulate.
- counting colourful toys: tiny balls, balloons, soft toys etc. Throw them in the air to make it more fun or touch your baby’s feet with a toy as you are counting them.
By helping children recognize numbers you make it easier for them to learn to count and to instantly recognize the number of a group (I can see two planes). There are various stages prior to mastering numbers for toddlers.
According to an article from Michigan State University, these stages are important when counting with infants and toddlers:
- Pre-counters: saying numbers randomly, typical for a 2-year-old
- Chanters: there is a sequence, but numbers are remembered as a block so when interrupted, a child must start over
- Reciters: verbally counting to 10 and even more, an advanced skill that shouldn’t be expected from a toddler
Being able to do one-to-one correspondence is more typical of a 3 and 4-year-old rather than a toddler, but I used one-to-one correspondence with my toddler around the age of 2 and a half.
However, all children are unique, and you should not consider these guidelines as parameters against which to measure your child’s performance and ability.
Numbers For Toddlers Flashcard Games
As a teacher, I used hundreds and hundreds of flashcard games. I know how important they are in teaching and I recommend using them with your children at home in a playful yet meaningful way.
1. What’s Missing?
Place three flashcards on the floor/table in front of the child. Name them and have your child repeat them after you. Then do it again, this time together. Point to each number as you say the words.
Then, have your child close his eyes while you remove one of the flashcards. When he opens his eyes, he must name the missing flashcard.
2. Hit The Number
Hang/ stick the flashcards on the wall. Give your child a softball and tell him to hit any number he wants/can. Make sure to place the flashcards closer together to make sure that he does hit something.
Take turns in hitting and naming the numbers. Continue to offer help at this stage.
3. Jumping Numbers
Place the flashcards on the floor. Either play hopscotch if the child is older or step/jump on the flashcards and name them.
Want To Practice Letters Too? Discover The Best Activities To Teach Letters To Little Learners.
4. Musical Numbers
Play some music. Put all flashcards on the floor. I recommend laminating them for longer life. After a few seconds stop the music and grab one of the flashcards from the floor.
Name it and then ask your child to do the same. If the child is older turn the game into a competition: who can grab the number faster. With 1 to 2 year-olds, always demonstrate first and keep it simple, they have no understanding of what a competition is, they learn best by imitation.
5. Hide Numbers For Toddlers
Hide all flashcards around the room. Go with your toddler on a treasure hunt and grab all the numbers. Don’t forget to name them together. To make it more fun, use a special box/bag when collecting the flashcards.
Simple Arts And Crafts Numbers For Toddlers
Print the large number flashcards and gather your art and craft supplies. You could:
- paint the numbers
- use playdough to decorate them
- use glue and buttons/small pom poms to fill in the number shapes
- laminate them and cut them out; use Velcro to attach them on the wall and let your child fill them in with stickers
Super Fun PPT Number Game
I am against screen time, especially for children under three, but I use it for no longer than 30-40 minutes a day in various parts of the day. Screen time includes songs and stories and some simple games, mostly the ones I make or have used with my students.
This simple PowerPoint game takes no longer than 3-5 minutes and it is not only fun, but also educational. Simply have the child click on any of the colourful squares and have him guess what is hiding behind the blocks.
One by one children will remove the blocks to reveal numbers and objects. Count the objects together and name the written number. Use the arrows to move back and forth. If you wish to reduce screen time, simply click on show and have the child name what he sees and move on.
Colour By Number Printable
Children love colouring so why not combine a favourite activity with a teaching moment? This will make the experience more meaningful and the child more involved. Don’t make this into a teaching activity, but rather a playful way of discovering what each object should look like: should we make the bird blue or red? Let’s find out. Where is the secret message telling us just that? That is the kind of language I would use during the colouring activity.
Tiny Book Of Numbers For Toddlers
I made a little rhyme book for numbers from 1 to 10 to encourage children to use it by themselves. Simply cut out the papers on the dotted lines and group them as such:
a. find the cover pages and the 1 2 page, glue them back to back;
b. the second set is 3 4 and 5 6 which again are glued together.
c. simply put this second set inside the first one, fold the pages and staple them.
Chants and rhymes are an excellent way of improving memory and increasing independence. For more helpful ways of developing memory skills, play these great memory match games.
The Counting Caterpillar
Another simple way to practice numbers for toddlers would be to identify the missing numbers in a sequence. Print the caterpillar worksheet and cut out the numbers. Glue them in the missing spaces on the caterpillar.
Offer praise and encouragement as much as possible, demonstrate first, and let your child do the activity by himself. Once you feel they’ve learned their numbers, reduce your support, and only encourage. To help children practice numbers in an interactive use our Fun Activity Book for kids.
More Fun Activities To Practice Number Recognition
- Choose foam numbers while having a bath. Let your child throw them in the water and name them as they do so. While splashing ask them to fish for a specific number and place them in the rinser/a special basket.
- Use magnetic numbers on a board. Make them disappear, remove one and hide it in your hand. Have the child guess which number you are hiding. Draw a trail to a secret place and follow the path with numbers. Extract them from a basket/box/bag and place them on the board.
- Use playing cards and have your child match all numbers. Or use lego blocks, write numbers on them and scatter them around. Children must match all numbers found.
- Use small tickets and write numbers from 1 to 10 or 20 depending on how high your child can count. Put one ticket inside a balloon. Blow up the balloon and let your toddler play with them. Ask them to pop the balloon and find out what number is hiding inside.
- Write numbers on sticky notes and glue them to mason jars or any other container you have. Invite your toddler to put as many toys in the container as the number says.
- Use any kind of toy that has numbers on it: lego, mega blocks, activity tables, puzzles, etc. Tell your child to put the numbers in order and also count backward if older than 4.
- Create a simple counting sheet by making columns from 1 to 10. Your child can place small toys on the sheet to match the numbers written: lego pieces, small figurines, cars, etc.
- Make a simple number puzzle as in the picture below and cut it out. Let your child put it back together and name the numbers he finds.
- Write numbers on small sheets of paper. Write all the numbers you wish to practice on another piece of paper and play bingo. I also added letters on this bingo sheet just to be exposed to them, but we only play with numbers. I give my son an old stamp of mine and he loves to press hard on the bingo sheet when I call out the numbers.
- Use cardboard boxes to make a number tunnel by bending it into an arch and sticking it to the floor. Number each tunnel entrance. Give your child small balls and have them throw balls in the tunnel just like in bowling. Name the tunnel entrance you rolled into.
- Combine sorting with counting. Read this article and find out more sorting activities.
- Big numbers threading is an activity I used with older students, but you could simplify it for numbers 1 to 10. Read easy set up indoor games to find out how to play it.
Make sure to download the printables above. Use them to teach and practice numbers for toddlers.
Mathematics is everywhere around us. And it is also all around in a child’s world too. While building blocks, counting steps, using stickers, collecting pebbles, or sharing toys, they are measuring, sorting, counting, noticing shapes and patterns.
Now you are laying the foundations for more formal mathematics such as reasoning, problem-solving, spatial visualization, identification of patterns and relations.
But you are doing so much more than that! You are nurturing the skills of a future doctor, engineer, computer scientist, architect, economist, teacher, or an interior designer. You are building a future!
I recommend this great book to understand more about teaching math to babies and children – Numbers and Stories: Using Children’s Literature to Teach Young Children Number Sense by Rita C. Jane and Elizabeth L. Strong.
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Hi. I am Monica, an experienced ESL teacher and early years student, mother to a preschooler and passionate reader.