Teaching Math: How early can I start?

When does a baby begin to learn math? To answer this question, think of Keith Devlin’s definition of mathematics as the science of patterns.

A baby identifies patterns almost immediately. In the first few weeks of life, when parents thrive on sleeping schedules, babies thrive on feeding schedules. Schedules are based on repetition, on patterns. One of the first patterns babies recognize are facial expressions. That’s why is such a delight to them. Babies know if mom is happy or sad. When babies sense tension or peace in their home, they are understanding patterns!


Since babies naturally learn by looking for patterns, some simple activities can stimulate their minds. What makes babies love “peek-a-boo” so much? They’ve discovered a pattern. A smiling face always reappears! Around six months of age, a baby is clearly beginning to interact with the world around him. Stack three or four SASSY Stacking CUPS BABY TOY LEARNING interactive NEW and knock them down. Repeat slowly. Repeat slowly again. There’s a pattern! Soon your baby will be knocking the cups down too. Around 9 months of age, babies can learn about space. Place a toy in a box. Take the toy out of the box. Inside and outside represent positions in space. In Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, June Oberlander suggests weekly developmental activities from birth to age 5.


Around one year of age, begin to read to your baby. In addition to introducing your baby to art, Sharing with Renoir (Mini Masters) is a beautiful board book which teaches about the number two. On each page are rhymes describing warm relationships: two sisters, two piano players, two dancers. The counting books available in the library seem endless. Favorites of our family include Richard Scarry’s Best Counting Book Ever, The M & M’s Brand Counting Book, and The Icky Bug Counting Book.

Exploration is what toddler’s are all about! Teach them about sorting. Pick sticks at the path, stones in the creek, or fruit from your kitchen. Sort them. Which are large and which are small? What is up and what is down? Where is inside and where is outside? Teach toddlers to count as they travel along. Count steps. Count jumps. Count hops. Teach toddlers to sort and identify shapes with Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Cube or simple puzzles like the Large Shapes Jumbo Knobs. Teach them to form simple patterns by stringing Lacing Beads in a Box.


Preschoolers are ready for even more discoveries. If you provide them with opportunities, then they will learn. remain my top choice for this age. Making design after design, preschoolers can be amused for hours. Books such as Pattern Animals: Puzzles for Pattern Blocks (Grades 1-3) can give some direction to their play. From among the writers of many amusing math tales for this age, my favorites are Greg Tang and David Schwartz.

Preschool is a terrific time to lay the groundwork for mathematical thinking and understanding. Create a climate conducive to learning. As your child explores the world around him, he’ll learn to question, to observe, and to seek answers.

Want to learn more?

I am working to develop all of these ideas more fully on math-mom.com. Here you will find top picks for preschool and beyond. Ask questions and see specifics on recommended resources to make learning math a fun, positive, and meaningful experience here at math-mom.com.

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Here you will find books, products, and ideas that our family has used to make learning fun for each one of us. We hope that it encourages you to find your own way to have the fun of learning.