How to Teach Numbers to Toddlers – An Easy Guide for parents


Looking to how to teach numbers to your toddler? Check out this extensive guide on various activities to teach numbers and counting to toddlers and preschoolers, Best books to teach numbers, best educational toys to teach numbers and much more questions answered for you

Numbers are everywhere. Our little children may have never been formally introduced to numbers but apparently, they do have some idea about numbers. So, teaching numbers will not be a daunting task for you. In this post, we are sharing some fun, easy, and exciting ways to teach numbers to toddlers and preschool children.

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What Is The Right Age to Teach Numbers

You can start teaching numbers to your child anytime after their first birthday. Do remember that it should be fun learning through activities and regular household items and chores.

You can even start teaching number recognition to kids after 2.5 years. Please do not rush to teach numbers to kids. Your child can learn to count and identify numbers till 20 before Kindergarten.

So please note counting and number recognition are two different steps in learning numbers. Usually, we start with counting first followed by number recognition.

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At What Age Should a Toddler Recognize Numbers?

There is no benchmark for this; each child is different, so this varies from one kid to another.

Few kids are able to recognize number as young as 12 months. but believe me there is no rush. You can start with introducing counting to young kids and usually in Preschool (i.e. 2.5 year onwards) activities are done to help toddlers recognize numbers.

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Math importance in Preschool or early years

Many parents wonder what is the importance of Math in preschool or early years. Believe me Mathematics plays a major role in a child’s development as Math is everywhere.

Math is not only about numbers but also about various shapes, comparing sizes, ordering and comparing objects, identifying and creating patterns, grouping and sorting objects by characteristics and counting objects in daily life.

Mathematics helps children develop problem solving skills, provides spatial awareness understand shapes and figures, etc.

Children learn from their surroundings, their learning happens every moment, as they are absorbing and processing information. It is important that this information is provided in the right way and context to build math skills.

Researchers have also said that early math skills are better indicators of future academic success.

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How to Help your Child Develop Early Math Skills

It is not tough to help your child develop early math skills or contribute to your child’s numeracy skills. Here are some tips that can help

1. Talk about numbers and quantities in everyday life

2. Let your child investigate and experience things via number based activities and play

3. Sing songs and rhymes as some kids find them easy to remember

4. Help your child with right tools (it could be toys, everyday material, worksheets, books or activities books) to learn new concepts and apply their knowledge

5. Include your toddlers in day-to-day activities including those that involve numbers, shapes and patterns.

6. Use real world scenarios to let kids learn. Encourage kids to think and use their reasoning skills to derive cause and effect relationships.

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What are the key math skills in preschool

Preschoolers are expected to know counting from 1 to 10. They should be able to tell- big and small, larger and smaller number. They should easily be able to count objects shown to them.

Number Sense

This refers to the ability to count forward for younger kids or backwards for elder kids. Also for older kids in KG it also means number relationships like addition and subtraction

Number Representation

Number representation is to be able to quantify or represent numbers. for example what does 4 mean in real life – to be able to count and relate 4 wheels of the car with number 4. or to be able to arrange 8 blocks for number 8 and so on.

Spatial Sense

Spatial sense is to be able to have an ability to recognize, visualize, represent and transform geometric shapes. For younger kids like toddlers its the idea of introducing shapes, size, position, space, direction and movement.

Measurement

Measurement is the ability to be able to find length, height and weight. For older kids measurement of time (minutes) also falls in this category.

Estimation

This is the ability to be able to make a good guess in terms of amount and size. For younger kids they are able to tell which object is longer, smaller, shorter, taller, heavy or light

Patterns

Patterns are things that repeat in a logical way. So it could be a pattern of numbers, images, shapes. Patterns helps kids in thinking critically and making logical connections.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is the ability to find one solution or may be different solutions to a problem at hand. For toddlers arranging stacking toys or shape sorting are simple example of problem solving.

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Math skills – Age by age learning skills – What to expect

  1. Babies can understand simple cause and effects and very simple sorting
  2. Toddlers can usually understand what numbers mean for eg 2 toys, some may be able to say numbers. Toddlers usually start recognizing shapes and can play with shape sorters. Toddlers love transferring activities so can understand full and empty. They can also start seeing patterns.
  3. Preschool children can count up to 10 and beyond. They can recognize numbers. They can understand colours, shapes and sizes. They can sort and classify things and can use spatial awareness to solve simple puzzles. Preschoolers can estimate what is short, tall, big and small. They do understand cause and effect and thus relationships.
  4. Kindergarten kids ( 5-6-year-old or above) can identify and write numbers. They can tell before, after, and between numbers. They can start with simple addition and subtraction. They can understand advanced patterns and can solve a little difficult spatial awareness puzzles.
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How to teach numbers to toddlers

To teach numbers to toddlers the best way is to involve them in hands on learning. Here are few ways how to teach numbers to toddlers

  • Modeling counting
  • Playing with Number toys
  • Reading Number books
  • Easy number songs for preschool
  • Number activities for toddlers and preschoolers
  • Hands on Activities and Fun Number games for teaching number
  • Teaching numbers via various life skills activities (Waldorf method)

As we have discussed before teaching numbers to toddlers means teaching them counting, number recognition or identification and being able to say their name and association of number with quantity for eg 2 with 2 blocks and so on.

I have also listed multiple activities ideas below that you can introduce to your kid

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Introduction to Numbers – Modeling Counting

The simplest way to teach numbers is by modeling; when you say how many bananas do you want, or how many balls do you have? or Mumma will have 2 chapatis or cookies, you are introducing them to numbers.


Since children see and hear numbers everywhere it isn’t challenging to teach counting to children. Counting is putting numbers in a sequence, or to be able to count a given number of things. They are listening to these numbers all the time, even when we talk about days and time it is in numbers.

SOE store has number counting worksheets for kids designed to make the kids familiar with numbers 1 to 20 and counting in a fun way. It contains many activities to practice counting till 20, find the missing numbers and join the numbers in series.

Number counting worksheets for kids product pic
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Best Number Toys for Toddlers (Learning and Educational Counting Toys)

Ring Stacker

Ring stacker is a great toy for kids above 1 year. You can use it for counting, color identification and also makes them aware of varying sizes.

Shumee Wooden Number and Shape Sorter

Shumee Wooden Number and Shape Sorter -This numbers & shapes sorter wooden house comes with numbers 0 to 9 & has 7 shapes that are easy to hold by a toddler. this wooden house also has a clock on one side.
Teaches mathematic skills, shapes and helps in improving fine motor skills.

Fisher Price counting animal friends

This multifunctional book by Fisher-Price is loaded with exciting lights and sounds, including a playful sing-along song about counting and animals.

Laugh and Learn Click Instant Camera

Laugh and Learn Click Instant Camera by Fisher-Price is a pretend Camera that comes with sound and light. a perfect educational toy for your toddler.

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Games to Encourage Number Recognition

Some of our good old traditional games can be a great way to teach number recognition, and what more when they can easily learn while playing. There are several resources available on amazon to support learning.

Here we will be listing some of the best games to teach number recognition to preschoolers.

Number Recognition Games – Traditional Games

Hopscotch, Snakes and ladder, and playing cards are some common games that you can modify and use to teach number recognition to your preschooler.

Worksheets For Number Recognition

Worksheets can prove to be handy tools to aid number identification or number recognition. Also, worksheets make little kids feel not so little, as they use pencils/crayons/pens to mark on sheets. The set by SOE is perfect for pre-nursery and nursery kids, to introduce numbers.

Workbooks by Little Genius

Another good product on Amazon is this set by Little Genius; this pack consists of engaging workbooks for Pre-schoolers children making learning counting and numbers fun and interactive.

Wooden Number Train

Wooden Digital number train: This educational toy is perfect for children above 2 years of age. A perfect toy to teach counting and number recognition. It can be used as an open-ended toy ad used for many other self-derived games.

Number & Beading Set by Skillofun

The Skillofun number and bead set is an aid that can teach little children the basics of counting numbers and number recognition in a fun way. This wooden set consists of 10 number tiles and 55 beads along with a string. Beading exercise also helps toddlers to work on their fine motor skills.

Wooden Puzzle and Fishing Toy

This wooden Puzzle and Fishing Toy is a perfect early learning toy for preschoolers. improves fine motor skills and develops math skills.

Ultimate Puzzle Set By Einstein Box

Ultimate Puzzle Set By Einstein Box helps children understand the concepts of numbers and counting in more than one way. The set comes with fun puzzles, a workbook, and a poster.

Wooden Calculation Shelf/Abacus : This Abacus set is a must have. A perfect tool for letting them understand the concept of numbers and helps to even just learn by way of play and exploration.

Number wipe clean Cards by SOE

This is a very good learning tool that helps little children in problem-solving skills, writing, number recognition, visual discrimination, and pre-mathematic concepts. Perfectly suitable for 3year and above children.

These SOE store Reusable write, wipe, clean activity cards are perfect for preschoolers. Use this kit for counting and matching numbers. You can also use this for number puzzles, missing numbers, and sequencing activities. These are reusable mats so can be used multiple times.

Number Flash Cards

Hungry Brain Number Flash Cards perfect cards to teach numbers. Flashcards develop an interest in children to learn more. These flashcards are well designed, right-sized, and easy to use.

Kyds Play – Number Flash Cards

Kyds Play – Number Flash Cards The pack consists of 36 Double-sided Wipe & Clean Activity Cards. Your child can learn tracing, counting numbers, comparing different sizes of objects with some fun game cards.

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Learning number with easy Number songs for preschool

Here are Some Fun Songs to teach Counting and introduce numbers

One and two
Buckle my shoe
Three and four
Shut the door
Five and six
Pick up sticks
Seven and eight
Don’t be late
Nine, ten
Do it over again!

One, two, three, four, five,
Once I caught a fish alive,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
Then I let it go again.
Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so.
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on my right  Ten little fingers, ten little toes,
Two little ears and one little nose
Two little eyes that shine so bright
And one little mouth to kiss mother goodnight.  

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Best Books To Teach Numbers and Counting to Toddlers and Preschoolers

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, is one of the best books for toddlers and preschool children to teach them counting and introduce them to numbers.

One Ted Falls Out of Bed by Julia Donaldson is a wonderful book to teach numbers. The book is loved by both tiny tots and not-so-little kindergartners. A cute fun story like all other Julia Donaldson stories, this one talks about the adventures of a Teddy bear while introducing numbers along.

One Mole Digging A Hole by Children’s favorite Julia Donaldson. Another one from Julia teaches numbers in a fun and interesting way.

Counting Kisses by Karen Katz is a beautiful book that shows how a tired, hungry baby needs kisses. So count and kiss and while you do that teach your child too. A perfect book for 1-5 years old.

Counting Creatures– A beautiful, mesmerizing counting book by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Sharon King Chai. Talks about animals and their young ones and numbers.

Ten Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss is one of our favorite books. It is hilarious like most other Dr. Seuss books and easily manages to teach counting to little children.

Rooster’s Off to See the World is a beautiful book by Eric Carle, this book teaches little children basic number skills through a pleasant story about one fun-loving rooster

Chicka Chicka 1,2,3

This book by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson is a perfect book for toddlers to introduce them to numbers. Read it aloud to them and see how they love it. Bill Martin Jr. is one of America’s Best Children’s books authors.

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Number Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

You can plan some fun activities like the ones below to teach the concept of numbers; these activities do not need many resources and are easy to implement.

  • Counting Activities
  • Number Recognition Activities for toddlers
  • Matching Number with quantities
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Counting Activities for 2 to 3-year-olds

Counting Activity Using Pulses

Kidney bean art- Use kidney beans (or any other pulse that they can grab) to teach them counting. On a sheet of paper, you can make a few circles and within each circle, you can make dots. for example, you make 4 circles. make one dot on circle 1, 2 dots on circle 2, 3 dots on the third circle, and so on.
 The child can be asked to count the dots and put an equal number of beans in the circle. 
Then you can make a simple flower/heart/sun and have your child count the beans and stick them on the outline. You can probably make a Greeting card using beans or other pulses and give them to your loved ones.

You can modify this activity for your toddler by using other child safe articles that are easy to grab.

Counting and Color-matching Activity

Get pom-poms/buttons/beads of different colors like red green blue, and get bowls/ bottles with different color labels. Count and put objects in the bottles. repeat this activity till your child has understood.

Construction Pretend-play to Learn Counting

Use a carton or a toy dump truck and pebbles, let your child count and load the truck/ carton and transport from one point to another.

Other Simple Ways to Teach Counting to Toddlers and Preschoolers

Numbers can subtly be taught through any activity or regular parent-child interaction. You can teach numbers while eating; offering chapatis or cookies or counting spoonfuls of lentil, you can count as you serve your child. While cleaning up after play you can count the toys together.

Starting with numbers this way will not even let your child feel that he/she is being taught something; slowly you will find your child taking interest in numbers and asking “how much or how many” of everything. 

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Teaching Number Recognition to toddlers and Preschoolers

Number recognition is your child’s ability to recognize numbers when they see them. Your preschooler probably recognizes more numbers than you know.  

Gone are the days when children were taught by digging into notebooks and pencils directly; there are different fun ways to teach numbers to children.

Following activities are simple and can easily be planned without many resources.

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Number Recognition Activities for Toddlers and preschoolers

Here are some easy , simple, no/low cost number activities for toddlers. You can also modify most of the other activities mentioned in this article to suit your toddler. Do ensure that you do not use anything that can be hazardous (esp. choking) to your toddler. Be alert and around while your child is performing these activities.

  • Count The colorful PomPoms and place them on Number flashcards
  • Water spray Number activity: Use playground/sidewalk and spray water writing numbers. it is a fun way to teach toddlers
  • Make your own version of Hopscotch and play with your child teaching him/her numbers

SOE store has FREE number mats which are great for teaching numbers 1 to 10 to toddlers, preschoolers,s or Kindergarteners (age 2 to 5 years old). These can be used as Playdough printable number mats for teaching counting to your child. Download and use it in a variety of ways.

You can use these number mats to help your child practice making numbers 0 – 10 or help your child to work on math and counting skills. Since these counting mats can be used with a wide variety of manipulatives like – Playdough, stickers, Crayons, paints, yarn, Legos, Pasta, Dot stickers, and/or cotton

Free number mats for Preschool 1 - 10 pdf - Playdough printable counting mats for toddlers preschoolers kindergarten
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Strategies for Teaching Number Recognition

To be able to recognize numbers a child should be able to differential one number from another and then associate with its number name. So here are few strategies:

  1. Do a lot of visual discrimination activities. So that kids is able to differentiate one number from another
  2. Introduce your kids to the name of numbers as they need to be able to recognize shapes of each number and say its name
  3. Do a lot of sensory play or art activities with numbers
  4. Go on a hunt for numbers in your house – You can do it using sticky notes and stick them around your home (as a treasure hunt)
  5. Trace numbers with paint pompoms or anything available
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How do I Teach my Toddler to Recognize Numbers?

To help your toddler recognize number do a lot of hands on fun activities to retain their interest. Plan some activities we have mentioned here and let your kid play with number toys. Show them print numbers in everyday life. Make counting a part of their daily conversations.

Try some number hunt activities which enable the kid to identify the number and keep looking for it. You can find some really easy number hunt worksheet at our store which helps in finding the number from a jumble of numbers and helps the kid practice more in a fun way.

Number Hunt Worksheet for preschoolers
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This is how I teach my child to recognize numbers

Things like a clock, calculator, cordless phone, calendars, lift, books with numbers at the bottom are all the things that have worked very well for my preschooler. They can easily learn the sequence and also learn to recognize the numbers.

Even number puzzles are a fun way to practice the sequence. Here, is a fun Dinosaur-themed number sequence puzzle printable by SOE Store for your little preschooler to solve.

Dinosaur themed number sequencing Reusable worksheets
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Teaching Numbers to your Toddlers while building life-skills (Waldorf method)

Life-skills are as important as learning alphabets or numbers. What better way to teach numbers than through these basic household chores, activities like cooking, cleaning, and gardening can be used as an opportunity to teach numbers. They will learn numbers and also understand the importance of work at home. This way you will also raise a confident and responsible child.

Teaching Numbers Through Cooking

Simple cooking activities can be taken up with kids. You can make banana cake, rotis/chapatis, cookies, fruit salad, etc.

While cooking with kids tell them how much of each ingredient are you using, for eg. say aloud that we are using 4 bananas, 2 cups of flour, etc. tell them for how long you will be baking it. You must also let them touch, feel and count the ingredients. Similarly, you can do with many other simple recipes.

Teaching Numbers While Gardening

Give your child some seeds ask your child to count the seeds. While preparing the soil let your child take out hard stones/pebbles from the soil and then ask them how many stones/pebbles they found in their soil.

Teaching Numbers While Folding Clothes

Sit with your child with handkerchiefs, kitchen towels, and hand towels. For slightly older kids (4 years and above) you can choose their pajamas and t-shirts. Ask them to count and then you can teach them to fold. Using towles and handkerchiefs, you can also use this opportunity to talk about shapes.

Above are popular Waldorf Kindergarten activities to introduce numbers to little children.

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Other Fun ways to teach numbers – Number Games and Hands-on Number Recognition Activities

Here we have curated some interesting number recognition activities that involve sensory stimulation too.

Sand Activity for Number Recognition

Sand is great for sensory play and when we add little learning to it, kids learn sooner and better. Few ways you can teach with sand-

  • On blank sheets with glue write numbers (starting from 1) in big size, one number on each sheet. Let your child sprinkle sand and watch it stick. Take only a few numbers at a time.
  • Draw numbers on a sand tray and tell your child what number is it, when you repeat a few times, your child will recognize it; you can have your child draw it too.
  • Write numbers in two sets (you can use cardboard cutouts or bottle caps) hide one set in sand and ask your child to match from the other set. name the numbers as your child finds and matches these numbers.

Number Recognition Water and Ice Activities

  • Number Fishing Activity- You can make fish out of paper and write numbers on them. keep bowls with numbers written on them. Put all the fish in water and let your child pick each fish by sucking with a straw. Ask your child to drop the fish in their respective bowls, matching the number on each fish. It is a fun activity and your child will enjoy it.
  • In a bucket/ tub with some body-wash/soap create a lather, alternatively, you can use shaving foam. Write numbers on bottle caps, hide these numbers in the foam/froth. On a waterproof sheet write numbers and let your child pick and match numbers.
  • In an ice-tray put colorful water and put these number caps, let it freeze. you can have your child rescue the numbers by breaking the cubes.
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How do I teach my 2-year-old to count ?

Easiest Way to Teach Numbers to Toddlers is through playing with Number toys and sing Songs and Rhymes. You can use flash cards too.

Use toys and household items to teach numbers and counting. The key is to talk about numbers, your child will soon take interest in numbers.

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When Should Kids Learn to Count to 10?

Numbers are all around us, you can introduce numbers in different ways after your child turns 1. All children are different and achieve milestones at different ages, but most children will be able to count up to 10 by the time they are 2 years old.

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Can Most 2-Year-olds count to 10?

Yes, most 2-year-old children can count up to 10. However, don’t fret if your child doesn’t show interest in numbers yet. All children learn and achieve different milestones at their own pace and time, to learn sooner your child should be listening to numbers more often.

Just keep showing numbers and keep talking about them, pick a few toddler activities from this article, and soon you will find your toddler counting numbers and taking interest in them.

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What is Subitizing?

Subitizing is the ability to instantly recognize a small set of objects without counting them. It is known that children from four years and above can subitize. Subitizing works best for numbers up to 5, beyond 5 objects we tend to use different strategies and mental images to count. You can use a dice or dot cards to check the same with your child a nd adults.

Once a child has learnt counting and recognizing numbers up to 10; it is is not so difficult to transition to 2 digit numbers. You can write numbers and show them that one and one together is eleven. Once again you can use songs, games, and activities to teach number recognition 10 to 20.

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Teaching Number Recognition to Special Needs Children

As we said earlier, numbers in the early years play an important role in setting the foundation of maths skills. As young children see numbers everywhere, they learn to count, understand and differentiate quantities, sizes, and shapes. Children with special needs also learn in the same fashion as other children but they will need extra attention and more repetition and practice than other kids.

Most children with special needs have difficulty in understanding and learning basic number concepts as they find them abstract. To teach children with special needs you can use board games with numbers, toys, and more sensory activities, like hiding balls in the sand and asking them to collect and count, poking Twigs in Playdough/clay and counting, tracing on the sand. With special needs children, patience and repetition is the key.

We are explaining below few ways in which you can help them improve their number sense:-

  1. Ensure that they have good exposure to numbers; talk to them about time, days, and quantity of things.
  2. Give them concrete experiences through activities and household chores like cooking that teach numbers.
  3. Repeat till the time they learn.
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How to Teach Preschoolers to Write Numbers?

Writing follows once the children have had enough exposure to written numbers, Only once children have learnt to recognize numbers should we aim at teaching them to write.

Writing should begin with tracing first, preferably with finger on sand tray. Alternatively, you can have the child write on large board or floor with chalk.

Gradually this can move to Number tracing worksheets.

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How to teach before and after numbers to preschoolers

Once the children have learned to count, it is time for them to understand “before, between, and after”. This can be introduced with a number line or a ruler. If there are 5-6 children that you are teaching together you can assign them a number (you may call them no. 1, no. 2, and so on) you can make them stand in a line and then teach “before, after, and between”

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