8 Top Tips For Successful Number Play With Toddlers


I am really excited about this post, because we love numbers in this house.  Almost as much as cars and trains (but not quite!).  So, as I do my best to follow T’s interests, we’ve been doing lots of number-y type things together lately.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember my post on maths with babies.  Well, now that T is a toddler, and able to do lots more physically and mentally, we’ve been trying some new number and counting activities and games, which I would like to share with you all.

But first, to get you in the mood for maths, here are my 8 Top Tips For Successful Number Play With Toddlers.

1.  It is never too early…

…to introduce the concept of numbers to your child.  YES, you will be doing it through FUN, PLAYFUL activities, but don’t feel you have to lower your expectations of your baby or toddler, just because they are not of school age.  Even babies under one have a developing understanding of what 1 or 2 objects is.  Just because they can’t speak yet to explain the concept, doesn’t mean they aren’t able to recognise what 1 or 2, a few or a lot is.

There is no reason your baby or toddler can’t begin to recognise numerals from an early age too.  After all, a numeral is just a shape with a name – just like a pig, a house or a truck.  So every time you see numbers and name them (just as you would a duck or an aeroplane) it is all going into their amazing developing brains.

2.  SORTING is a useful way of introducing counting and numbers.

Sorting (by shape, colour or other shared features) is a mathematical skill in itself.  It is also a great opportunity for you to introduce counting, numerals and the language of maths.  Most toddlers begin to categorise at around 18 months.  So capitalise on this interest when you see it developing, and use it to talk about numbers.  If your toddler is beginning to sort out all of her mini animals into groups of sheep/pigs etc. count them together, then label them with a number card, saying: “how many sheep are there? 3! Can you find number 3?” etc.

3.  Your fingers are your counting friends

Free and permanently accessible, your toddler can always refer to their fingers, wherever they are, to count things.  You will already by used to using your fingers for representing number when you sing rhymes and songs with your littlies.  Don’t be afraid to ask your toddler to do the same.  She won’t have the dexterity to show you 3,4 6, 7, 8 or 9 for a few years, but they can certainly try:

1 – (one hand pointing)

2 – (two hands pointing)

5 – (one hand)

10 – (two hands)

4.  Use mathematical language in all your play

Great words and phrases (that cover all the elements of maths ie not just number) to be using all the time are:

Language of numbers and counting

How many…are there/can you count/are left?

Let’s count the…


A few/a lot/not many

Names of numerals 1-20 and other meaningful numbers such as ages of family members

One more/another one


Language of size, shape and position


up/down/left/right/above/below/on top of/under/next to/beside

names of 2d and 3d shapes

5. Number Play is not just about reciting numbers.

When teaching about number, these are the 4 elements you want to cover:

Number Recognition: learning the names of numerals

Numbers For Labelling: matching a number to a group of objects to show the total

Number Sequencing: learning the order that numbers go in

Numbers For Counting: learning how to say one number name for each item they count, and the total.

6.  Incorporate counting into all your play

Count anything that can be counted!  Stairs, spoonfuls of food, body parts, animals in picture books, ducks on the river, people in the room, trains on the track, apples in the fruit bowl – anything!  As with all learning, repetition is the key.  Just counting with your toddler means you are reinforcing the names and order of numbers, without having to really do anything.  I don’t know about you, but with a day filled with laundry, cleaning and other chores, we like anything that is easy around here.

7.  Get these resources together

Most of your maths resources are all around you – toys, household objects and those all important fingers.

But it’s worth getting some of these cheaply too, as you will get a LOT of use out of them:

  • Foam numbers
  • Number Cards (either bought or home-made)
  • Number Puzzles
  • Number Books

If you have all of these, you have several instant games without any real preparation.  These (and objects/movements/fingers) are all I used for about a year to teach T numbers and counting.

8.  Go at your child’s pace

MOST IMPORTANTLY: for success, it is always best to go at your child’s pace.  You know your chld better than anyone else – what they know already, what inspires and excites them, and only you can tell when they are ready to grasp something.  They may pick up counting really quickly, but be totally disinterested in sorting by colour.  Or perhaps they will have amazing fine motor skills and be brilliant at using their fingers to represent numbers, but have no interest in shape sorting.  Your toddler’s individual style of learning will play a part too.  If they are an active learner, they will get more out of jumping on numbered stepping stones, counting claps or tracing sandpaper letters than pointing to numbers in a book.  Learning is not a race, it is a journey.  Each child will follow their own unique path to learning numbers and everything else.

Right, I’ll get off my soap box now.  That was beginning to feel a  little bit like a lecture!

I hope you found these tips useful.  If so, pin, tweet, share or post a comment below to show me you care :-).

Here Comes The Fun Bit:

Look out for my next post in this little series – some fun and simple number activities you can set up REALLY  easily at home.  I am very excited about posting these as they have taken a while to set up, try and test.  I will also open up my Toddler Maths Activities Pinterest Board to view if you want to follow me on Pinterest.  Until then, have fun, playful people!  See you soon…

3 thoughts on “8 Top Tips For Successful Number Play With Toddlers

    • Thank you so much! It’s nice to know the tips will be of some use :-). Hope it doesn’t come across too preachy…there are just so many teaching secrets I like to share that make life easier!

    • I thought I had replied to this comment? Did I not? If not, so sorry, and thank you. I am happy that you feel my post will be useful! Worried that it sounded too “preachy” but I was really just putting into writing the answers to questions people are always asking me :-). Thanks for your comments and taking the time to read my post.

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