• Math in the Early Years

    Some of the most important learning years happen before your children reach school. You are often told to read with your children, but it’s rare to hear about the importance of doing math with them.

    Anoka-Hennepin Early Learning is providing a series helpful tips on why and how to instill a love of math in your children. Whether you are excited, concerned, or simply unsure how to start, we are here to partner with you.

    Skill: Counting

    Parent information:

    • Children often learn rote counting (1, 2, 3) before they understand numbers represent quantity.
    • A young learner may hold, move, or point to an item, as they learn that the word “one” means one object.
    • Even if a child can count objects, knowing how many total objects there are in all, is another developmental step.
    • Being able to look at items and know the quantity, without counting each item is a sophisticated skill that requires practice through play.

    Math talk/vocabulary:

    • Count it out
    • How many?
    • One, two, three

    Activity by age:


    Birth to one:

    Activity: Building with blocks or small boxes

    • Materials needed: Blocks or small boxes
    • What to do:
    Count the blocks as you and your baby are building together. When you have built a tower, count again and knock it over “1,2,3, go or 3,2,1 go”.
    • Counting song: Tick Tock
    Tick tock, tick tock (hold baby facing you, move baby side to side)
    I’m a little cuckoo clock,
    Now I’m striking one o’clock,
    Cuckoo! (lift baby up one time)
    (you can continue the song by adding two o’clock, three o’clock and lifting baby up that many times)

    One to two:

    Activity: Car parking lot

    • Materials needed:  
    1. Small cars
    2. A piece of paper with lines drawn for parking spots (number them, color them or add a pattern with the colors, such as blue, red, blue, red, blue, etc.)
    • What to do:
    Count the cars as your child drives the cars into the parking spots. How many cars are in parking spots? How many more are you going to park?
    • Counting song: Hickory Dickory Dock
    Hickory dickory dock, (clap hands)
    The mouse ran up the clock, (run your fingers up child’s arm)
    The clock struck one, bong (clap hands one time)
    The mouse ran down, (run fingers down child’s arm)
    Hickory dickory dock. (clap hands)

    (you can continue the song by adding more hours for example; the clock struck two and clap your hands two times, the clock struck three and clap your hands three times etc.)

    Two to three:

    Activity: Pom-poms/cotton balls in a container

    • Materials needed:  
    1. Pom-poms or cotton balls
    2. Muffin tin or empty egg carton
    • What to do:
    Put one pom-pom into one spot in the container. Your child can use their fingers or tweezers to move the pom-poms. Encourage your child to count the pom-poms as they put them in the container spaces.
    • Counting song: One Little Finger
    One little finger says “Hello, where is my friend?” (one finger moving up and down, other fingers down)
    Oh, what do you know? (another finger pops up)
    Two little fingers say “hello, where is our friend?” (two fingers moving)
    Oh, what do you know? (another finger pops up)
    (continue up to 10)
    (you can change the last word in the first line to rhyme with the number you are using and you can change the movement)

    Preschool age:

    Activity: Piggybank math

    • Materials needed:  
    1. Coins
    2. Piggybank (or another container)
    • What to do:
    Have a bunch of coins in a pile and ask your child to help you count them as he/she puts them into the bank/container. Try to have a few more coins than your child can typically count.
    Note: Typical three-year-olds can count at least to ten but not to twenty (rote); they can correctly count up to five objects, using one number name for each object.
    Typical four-year-olds can count to twenty (rote); they can count ten to twenty objects accurately, and can state how many they had in all (total). They can also tell what number comes next in order of counting for 1-10. (What comes after six?)
    • Counting song: Jingle Jive (tune: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star)
    Jingle jingle jingle jive
    Jump until we count to 5,
    1,2,3,4,5 (spoken while jumping)
    Jingle jingle jingle jen
    Stomp until we count to 10
    1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 (spoken while stomping)
    (you can change the last word in the first line to rhyme with the number you are using and you can change the movement)

    Remember to play dice and card games with your child.  Children learn best through play and games provide wonderful opportunities for counting!



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  • Child counting on fingers  

    Parent stacking blocks with child
    Boy counting shapes
    Boy playing with cars  
    Dad sorting blocks with child
    Boy sorting pom poms   
    Preschool girl sorting money  
    Two preschool children sorting coins  
  • Literacy connection:

    • 10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox
    • Trucks and Diggers One to Ten by Caterpillar
    • My First 1, 2, 3 by Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • Learn with Legos books: Numbers by Scholastic
    • Over the Meadow—folk song and book
    • Goodnight Moon 1, 2, 3 by Margaret Wise Brown
    • Five Little Monkeys-book and finger play
    • One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root
    • The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade