How do you teach numbers to a toddler?
As I sat at my dining room table watching my toddler make a mess of the oatmeal I had given her, she shouted with excitement “I have three blueberries!”
While I saw a mess, she was experiencing an ‘aha moment’ that was rooted in counting and number lessons we’d introduced weeks ago. These are the moments I live for, not because I’m a great teacher – but because she and most children are born with a great appetite to learn and understand the world around them. It’s our job to figure out how they learn best.
When it came to reading, I knew that she’d need to know letters of the alphabet, letter sounds, phonetic sounds, rhyming, and words (CVC words and sight words). You see the end goal or purpose for teaching letters was so that my kid would learn to read.
For numbers, the end goal is to help with counting and to support the foundations of math comprehension. So we jumped right in with number recognition and counting everything including snacks and toys. The more I was able to show practical and relevant uses for what she was learning the better.
Here you’ll find the resources I used to teach my toddler numbers.
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Teach Numbers To Toddlers
1. Invest in Number Books
Can you imagine trying to describe a pineapple to someone who has never seen one? Even now, I know that my description would be pitiful. That’s why showing is better than telling, especially when it comes to educating toddlers.
Number books for kids are great at showing children numbers and corresponding objects. I have purchased several yet our favorite is One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count With Me!; it was sent to us for free by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, this program sends kids free books every month for up to five years! Find out if you can sign up.
We love this book because it is simple yet helps with several learning themes including numbers, seasons, counting up, and counting down. Plus, the graphics are adorable.
Another we adore is Goodnight Numbers by Danica McKellar (numbers 1-10).
Related: 10 Must-Have Counting Books
2. Watch Number Songs on YouTube
YouTube is the one-stop-shop for free number songs for kids. Here is a number song that helps toddlers count from 1-20. I go for videos that are less than five minutes because of the way my daughter’s attention span works…
3. Stalk The Target Back-To-School Section
Psst…I’m talking about that entry area of Target that catches an extra $5 minimum from me during every season’s product launches. It’s where I have found several low-cost resources to help me educate my toddler at home.
Among the dozens of purchases, my favorite for teaching numbers is a glossy flip board with plain numbers on a white background.
(Personal photo of Target whiteboard)
We use the page weekly for number recognition, counting, and math. We began with one row at a time, learned 1-30, and then skipped to teaching multiples of ten. If you can find a similar board, try it out.
4. Play Number Games
My husband enjoys trivia and board games and now that our daughter can count, he was able to dust off our dusty, dice-popping, Trouble game.
We have the traditional version but this Paw Patrol version is cute!
Other kid-friendly board games that require number recognition and/or counting include:
- Uno (card game)
- Lakeshore’s Find The Number (numbers + fine motor skills)
5. Use Household Objects + Quality Number ‘Toys’
It probably didn’t take you long to figure out that not all toys are worth our time or money. Some break easily, some are too small, others are just flimsy.
You can use number toys like medium-sized magnets, wood numbers puzzles, wooden dice set, toys that I label with numbers, and child-safe objects that you have around the house (toddler dinnerware, cupcake pans, etc).
These blocks are great for letter numbers and pictures. We love them and I never worried about them being a choking hazard!
Once a child can open a pantry or refrigerator, they are in front of them frequently.
Wood Number Puzzle
Puzzles are great for number recognition and fine motor skills. My kid loves all kinds of puzzles.
Wooden Dice Set
We skipped the kid’s department for this purchase and bought a large adult dice set. They are great for gross motor skills, counting, and math.
I use a plain large desk calendar but a large acrylic calendar is on my wish list this year. It’s a great way to count the days of the month.
6. Invest in Number and Counting Printables (psst…You can use them on digital devices)
Sometimes, I don’t find what I think would be a great resource for teaching my kid how to count and do math so I create printables. I enjoy creating printables because they are a reflection of exactly what I imagine would help my child learn numbers best. Then, I get to try it out.
Below are my favorite number printables. I print them out or allow my daughter to work on them on a touch screen device.
Tip: If your toddler is not ready to write, skip the tracing or consider using cotton swabs and paint to ‘trace’ the letters.
How to use kid-friendly printables on your touch screen devices:
- Download the PDF file to your device.
- Use your devices editor.
These are the things I’ve done to introduce numbers, encourage counting, and begin teaching basic math. My top objective is to ensure that my daughter is learning and not just remembering. That’s why I highly recommend connecting numbers with things already in a child’s environment.
This numbers journey is just beginning and I’m dreading the calculus stage (I failed twice in college before passing) but we’re making progress right now and that’s what matters the most!
Photo Credit: LightFieldStudios from Getty Images via Canva
What are you doing to teach your kid numbers and counting?