We know that babies understand much more than they can express, but just how much does your baby know about numbers and counting? Recent research shows that babies may understand more about numbers long before the preschool years.
A study done in February 2019 by Jenny Wang and Lisa Feigenson showed that infants may “recognize counting as numerically relevant years before acquiring the meanings of number words.” The study, conducted at Johns Hopkins University, measured 14 and 18 month old infants, testing their ability to remember different numbers of hidden objects. Even though the babies couldn’t remember the exact amount of objects the experimenters hid inside a box, they clearly had expectations about how many objects would be in the box when the experimenters counted the objects out loud before placing them in the box. This study showed that young toddlers may understand more about numerical values than we originally thought!
Although your toddler may not be able to do math or say numbers, it’s clear that they may understand some kind of link between counting and quantity. Therefore, counting out loud and exposing your little one to counting books may just help them understand simple concepts of numbers long before they enter preschool!
How can you practice counting with your little one?
1. Mealtime Math
Meal times can be a great time to count with your little one! Practice counting crackers, puffs, pieces of cheese, slices of grapes, and more! You can count out pieces of food, and every time your little one takes a bite, count the remaining pieces. You can also hide a bite of food underneath a plastic cup or bowl, and let your little one lift it up to reveal the missing number! Mealtime can be about so much more than just nutrition - it can be a fun, education bonding time between parent and child! If your little one is observing you cook a meal, consider measuring and counting ingredients out loud, such as pouring in water, one tablespoon at a time. You can also show your little one what measuring cups look like, or even buy a set for her to play with while you cook!
2. Up We Go
An easy way to practice counting is to count your little one’s steps any time you go up or down the stairs. Make it fun! Pause on each step, saying the number out loud. This game can be done at home, at the mall, at the park, or other places with stairs! Most crawling infants and early walkers love practicing going up and down stairs - so why not add another learning element to it?
3. What’s In The Box?
This game is similar to the research from Johns Hopkins University. Grab a plastic box, cardboard box, or a shoe box, and fill it with items such as blocks, small animal toys, or balls, and count with your little one before placing each one in. Then close the lid, shake the box, and then let your little one help you find out how many objects are inside! With your little one’s help, pull each object out one by one, counting as you go. Experiment with different amounts of items in the box, and let your little one feel the box become heavier with more objects, and lighter with fewer objects.
4. Building Blocks
Most toddlers have a set of blocks and enjoy building and sorting the pieces. Make a game and see how many blocks your little one can stack before the tower tips over! Each time you add a new block, count the blocks from the bottom upward. When they fall down, your baby will squeal with delight! Try again, and see if you can make an even taller tower! Toddlers enjoy playing with blocks that connect together because they are easily manipulated and linked together. Depending on the age of your little one, be sure to use blocks that are not a choking hazard or are painted with materials that might be dangerous if chewed or sucked on.
5. 10 Fingers, 10 Toes
Most babies love to be tickled, and this counting game is fun for everyone! Encourage your baby to put her hands out, and gently count her fingers, one by one. When you get to ten, tickle her all the way up her arms! Do the same thing with her toes, gently tugging on each toe as you count each one. When you get to ten, tickle her all the way up her leg.
The best way to teach your baby isn’t through flash cards or expensive classes, but instead, the best way to learn is by exploring and having fun! There are so many opportunities throughout the day to practice counting with your little one. Create special learning moments between you and your little one, and he’ll be ready to learn all about numbers and math by the time he enters school!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Everyday is an adventure.