Count, Group, and Compare

Help your child make sense of the numbers and categories all around them.

Why this matters

Becoming good at math begins long before a child enters school. Each one of us is born to be a “math person.” Even babies can do simple math, such as noticing amounts and patterns. Toddlers love learning math concepts, such as comparing sizes and shapes. These concepts help them make sense of the world. We can help our children learn math as we play and talk during everyday moments. By building on their natural skills and interests, we will boost their confidence and understanding.

Count. For example, count and wiggle each of their toes. Or count and point to objects as you play. “You have three blocks: one, two, three.”

Compare using the senses. Help your baby explore things that are the same and different. Let them shake containers that make different sounds. Or give them different types of fabric to touch (like smooth and scratchy). Talk about the similarities and differences.

Fill up and dump out. Give your baby a container to scoop and dump water in the bathtub. Use words like “in,” “out,” “full,” and “empty.”

What’s inside? Wrap an object in a piece of paper. See if your baby can remove the paper to see what’s inside. Talk about what they found and the crinkle sound that the paper makes.

Stack towers. Help your baby stack blocks or other objects like plastic cups. Describe what they’re doing using size and position words. They will love to knock the tower over!

Less and more. As you go about your regular routine, find opportunities to compare amounts using “less” and “more.” For example, “Do you want more bananas?” “Now they’re all gone!”

Compare sizes. Talk to your baby about things that are different sizes. For example, put their hat next to yours and say, “Who wears the little hat? Aaron! Who wears the big hat? Mommy.”

Move to the beat. Tap your baby’s tummy or clap their hands together to the rhythm of a song. Or rock them as you sing a lullaby.

Count sets of objects. Encourage your child to point to each object as you count together and say how many there are in total. “One, two, three, four—there are four strawberries.” Split the objects into two groups and count each.

Helping hand. Ask your child to bring you a specific number of objects. “Can you bring two books to read?” Increase the numbers as they learn.

Match and sort. Match and sort objects by their features like color, shape, size, or what they do. For example, sort blocks by their colors as you put them away or by size from smallest to largest.

Find the match. In the kitchen, give your child a container and 2 lids. See if they can figure out which lid fits and then put it on. Use size and shape words like “longer” and “wider.” If they get the hang of it, try more containers/

Build. Encourage your child to build with blocks or other objects like empty cereal boxes. Watch as they experiment with combining shapes and testing balance. Describe what they’re doing using position words like “below” or “above.”

Look for shapes. Point out shapes and describe them to your child. “Look. That window is a square with four sides.” As they get older, see if they can find and name shapes around them.

Puzzle time. Expose your child to shape sorters or simple puzzles. Let them take the lead and problem solve. Provide help when needed, like labeling shapes or encouraging them to turn pieces.

Compare sizes and amounts. Your toddler may be interested in which things are “big” or “little.” You can also talk to them about whether they want “more” or “less.”

Scoop water. Give your child some containers to scoop and dump water in the bathtub. They might enjoy pouring water back and forth between containers of different sizes.

Measure while cooking. Find safe ways for your toddler to participate while you are in the kitchen, like counting and helping to measure ingredients.

Add and subtract. With older toddlers, make a game of adding or subtracting from a small set of objects. Line up 3 crackers. Ask, “How many crackers are there? What if I eat one?”

Clap in a pattern. See if your toddler is interested in clapping along or dancing with you. A-B-A-B. Have fun with patterns. With an older child, alternate grapes and strawberries. Ask, “Which comes next, a grape or a strawberry?” Can your child make a pattern?

Count sets of objects. Help your child count groups of objects that are a little larger than the numbers they know well.

Calendar count. Choose something fun that’s coming up for your child, like a visit with a grandparent. Count the days until the event and lay out an item for each. So, if the event is 6 days away, place 6 coins on the table.

Count around town. Count and find numbers in your community! You could count the sidewalk squares or look for numbers on signs.

Category hunt. Walk outside and talk about how objects fit into categories. See how many different leaves or different flowers your child can find. Point out ones that might not be obvious. ‘Look at that tulip. It has pink petals and a long stem.’

Match and sort. Match and sort objects by their features like color, shape, size, or what they do. For example, your child can help sort the silverware when you put it away.

Puzzle play. Do a puzzle (you can make one by drawing a picture and cutting it into a few pieces). If your child needs help, give hints using position words like “below” or “above.”

Look for shapes. Go on a scavenger hunt for rectangles around your home. Talk about which objects aren’t rectangles and why. “That block isn’t a rectangle because it only has 3 sides.”

How tall? Using a piece of string or yarn, measure how tall your child is. Cut the string and compare the length of string to other objects. Which is taller?

Grocery helper. The next time you go to the store with your child, give them a job. Use “size words” when you ask them to help you. Say, “We need three large potatoes” or “Can you find two small red onions?”

Add and subtract. Count with your child using your fingers. Fold down one finger and count how many are left. Hold up a few fingers on the other hand and count how many you have now.

Make patterns. Make a movement pattern game. Try taking a step, then a hop, then a step, then a hop. Let your child choose the next movement to add.