Counting Games for Toddlers

Teach your child to love numbers with these fun, everyday activities.

Bring Math Home

Math can feel intimidating to some kids. They see rows of numbers and symbols -- and promptly lose interest. So how can you help make sure that doesn't happen to your preschooler?

Try presenting math concepts in ways that matter to her, such as figuring out how she and two friends can equally divide six cookies among themselves, says Art Baroody, PhD, professor of early-childhood and elementary-mathematics education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Everyday situations are golden learning opportunities," he explains. "They help kids see how mathematics is used in real life."

In the Kitchen

Fractions. Pizza night is a perfect time to introduce fractions. Ask, "What happens when I divide the pizza equally down the middle? We get two pieces that are the same size -- that's half."

Sorting. Karen Marriott, of Boise, Idaho, does "M&M Math" with her daughter. "We open a bag, sort the colors, and line them up like a graph," she says.

Counting. "Even something concrete like 'two' can be difficult for young children to understand," says Dr. Baroody. "They have to learn that 'two' can apply to very different-looking pairs, such as twin babies or two cookies." To help your child grasp the concept, ask him to pick out two crackers and two cheese squares for his snack.

Classifying. Talk about the food groups; then help your child figure out how many servings he's had of each.

While You Do Chores

Measuring. Get your child her own child-safe measuring tape. Jeremy Clifford, of Watertown, Connecticut, lets his 4-year-old son pitch in with a ruler or measuring tape when he's doing household projects. "I also let him measure his baby sister the other day, and he loved doing that," Clifford says.

Shapes. When you're folding the laundry, let your child hunt through the socks to find pairs.

Adding and subtracting. When you set the table at dinnertime, ask her how many sets of utensils you'll need. Say, "How many plates should I take out for you and me and Daddy?" Or ask questions like, "How many fish are we feeding? If we had three more fish, how many would we have? What if two swam away?"

Teaching Tactics

To encourage a love of math, it's important to let your child see connections on her own. Here's how to make sure you don't do too much work for her.

  • Don't be afraid to admit you don't know the answer to a math question. It's a great chance to show your child how to find answers. Tell her, "Let's figure it out together!"
  • Do give him a chance to solve a problem by himself. If he asks you a question, say, "What do you think?"
  • Don't push. In kindergarten, kids learn how to identify shapes, colors, and patterns and how to sort objects. If she's struggling, don't worry. It will probably come with time.
  • Do let him explain how he reached an answer. Ask, "Why do you think that?"

Skill-Building Math Games

These adventures make learning about numbers a blast.

  • Dragon Tales: Learn & Fly with Dragons (Scholastic, $20) Kids learn to count, sort shapes, and more as they help the dragons learn to fly. Eleven games and activities prevent boredom.
  • Blue's Clues Preschool Learning System 2007 (The Learning Company, $20) Blue and his friends are having a backyard fair, and your child is invited! She'll complete fun math-based tasks such as sorting snacks and building a train ride.
  • Reader Rabbit's Math Ages 4-6(The Learning Company, $10) Preschoolers use math skills to help Reader Rabbit play games at an amusement park.
  • Hooked on Numbers Super Activity Kit (HOP, $10) This set is a multimedia experience: Preschoolers can sing along with the music-based DVD at home, then continue the fun with the activity pad and wipe-off journal when they're on the go.

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