8 Simple Games That Teach Your Toddler Numbers and Counting

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Who loves number games? We do, we do!

Educational boffins generally agree that the best way to approach any area of learning with under fives is through Purposeful Play. And I whole-heartedly agree. We all want a reason to do something – a goal that we are aiming to achieve – so why should children be any different? I think this is why we parents know instinctively that our little ones learn best when we make something into a game or a race. My mum friends are always coming up with brilliant games using bits and bobs from around the house :-).

With this in mind, I’ve come up with a few games that practise:
number recognition
number sequencing
counting with 1-1 correspondence
labelling with numbers

Some of these evolved over time, some came from T, and one or two originated in my fuzzy baby brain. These games are really for young toddlers. There are SO many other games you could try with older children, but I am focusing on the sort of games that work for my 22 month-old. I would say that these are suitable for toddlers who are around 12-30 months. Read on if you want to know the simplest number games we have enjoyed. All of them involve resources mostly found around the house and can be prepped in just a few minutes. I hope you get some use out of them :-).

Wait! Before You Read On…

Here are my Teacher Tips For Success With Number Play:

1. When you start these games, your child will (probably) not know her numbers. So your job is just to encourage her to have a go finding numbers. For example, if she is looking for number 2: if she gets the wrong one, just say “that’s number 1. Where’s number 2?” It’s important not to say things like “no, that’s not right” as this will not only knock her confidence, but won’t give her the right answer.

When she finds the right number, give her lots of praise and reinforce by repeating the word “2” in lots of different ways.

We like “can you put number 2 on your head/feet/tummy/mummy’s head/daddy’s knees?” Etc.

2. Always have a set of number cards 1-10 on the wall to refer to. That way, when you are counting things throughout the day you can easily point to the number to reinforce it. We used to count fruit in the fruit bowl or trains on the track this way. Once your child knows her numbers, she can go and fetch numbers herself. T loves doing this, and it uses up some of that boundless toddler energy!  It doesn’t matter if they get it right every time as a wrong answer means they get to toddle back again!

One More Thing:

I hope this post isn’t too badly written. I expect it is littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. I guess my brain really wants to be concentrating on preparing my hospital bag, dusting off the Moses baskets and practising my breathing techniques (eek!). Anyway, apologies in advance for any glaring errors. Here it is:

8  Games That Teach Your Toddler Numbers & Counting

1. 5 Little Ducks (using foam numbers).

fivelittleducks

It’s easy-peasy to fit this in without any thought or preparation, as bath time happens every day. Sing the song, but, instead of using your fingers, hold up or point to the numbers. You can also use the numbers to count the ducks, by sticking them above each duck and counting along.

Variation:
Throw the ducks in, count the splashes, then find the number to match. T LURVES this game :-).

Extensions:
Once your toddler becomes familiar with the order and recognises the numbers, try:
– encouraging your toddler to place them above the ducks himself. You can prompt him by saying which number comes first/next?
– mixing the numbers up and getting him to put them back in the right order

Singing Counting Songs is one of the best ways to teach numbers and counting to young children. But how do you choose which songs to sing? If you haven’t checked it out already, have a look at my list(what I consider to be) the best interactive counting songs and rhymes for babies.

2. Counting Book Games

countingbooks2

Simple! Count things in the pictures in your favourite books, and have your toddler find the numeral to match. You will need a set of number cards, but otherwise this needs no prep.

You can use ANY books to play this game, but here are our favourites:

First 100 animals – we count the legs!
Three bears – we count the bears, bowls, chairs and beds
Super worm – we count the worm/beetles/snails etc.
Hide And Seek Farm – we count the animals (different amounts on each page 0-5)

No time to faff around with number cards?

Invest in some books that will do the job for you FOR YEARS. There are some seriously brilliant counting books out there, which have numbers inside, so no number cards are needed to play games with these. Our favourites are:

Counting Colours
Each double page is a different colour, and has a treasure hunt on it (1 strawberry, 2 father Christmases etc. up to 10 objects). Excellent for improving visual memory which helps with literacy, numeracy and everything really. T never gets bored looking for stuff in this book. And he is learning colours and expanding his vocabulary at the same time.

Lift The Flap Counting Book
Each double page represents a number 1-5. You look at the pictures at the bottom and lift the flaps to find 2/3 etc. of each animal or object. We got so much use out of this around 12-18 months (and still do now) as T loved opening the flaps and finding things. He also enjoyed the challenge of remembering where the different animals were hiding :-).

Simple First Words: Let’s Say Our Numbers
The main attraction of this book is, without a doubt, the number buttons! The book goes through each number with photos of real objects to count, and number buttons to press. Great for counting and number recognition (and lots of fun pressing the buttons as they learn!).

At first, your toddler can see the number on the page and try and find the matching buttons. For more experienced children, you can cover the number, have them count the objects and press the number button, then lift up your hand to see of they are right!

First 100 Numbers
This is the most recent addition to our collection. Lots of counting opportunities with pictures of real objects and numbers to refer to. Lots to talk about.

I highly recommend ALL of these books. They are fun, stimulating ways to start talking about numbers and counting. And if you’re exhausted after a long week, no prep needed! That in itself is always attractive in this household.

3. Treasure Basket Challenge

Get a treasure basket together containing 1-5 (or 1-10) of similar items, and some number cards.
For our basket, we used:

1 stick, 2 wooden blocks, 3 rocks, 4 pine cones and 5 shells. I wanted to choose natural objects here, just to be different. We already count his toys (especially his cars!!) quite a lot, so this makes a change.

Hold up or point to a number card and challenge your toddler to find you 1 ball, 2 blocks etc. and place them next to the card. Reward them with praise, high fives, claps, stickers – whatever your preference!

Extension: Instead of giving them the number, ask them “How many animals can you find?”, count them as they find them and have them match them to the right number.

Interested in treasure baskets? There is a lot of fun and learning to be had with these. Check out my post on TBs here for a full explanation. I’ve also started a treasure basket Pinterest board here, which I’ll keep adding to. Enjoy :-).

5. Sensory Number Match

OK this one does involve a bit of prep…but it’s worth it :-). But if you really don’t have time to make these cards, just play the games with store-bought cards.

Make yourself a set of sensory number cards. These are particularly beneficial for more kinaesthetic learners, as they can feel the shape of the numbers. But I think they are fun for all children – generally the rule is the more senses you use when learning something, the more likely it is to “stick”.

I made a set of sandpaper and felt number cards, as I already had these materials to hand. I first drew numbers on paper, then used these like a sewing pattern to draw around on the sandpaper and felt. I folded A4 card into 4 and cut it, then stuck the numbers on.

They are a bit rough around the edges but they’ll last for a bit. If I had more time and money I would have covered them with sticky back plastic. If you are really organised, you might get them laminated.

Once you have your cards, here are two games you can play:

Memory: Everyone knows a version of this…but just in case you need a reminder: Begin with two matching pairs. Put them face down on the floor/table.  Encourage your toddler to lift them up and match them and give lots of praise when they do. It will involve lots of support at first, but it’s amazing how quickly they get the idea.

Extension: as your toddler gets more experienced, just add more pairs to find and introduce the concept of turn-taking.

Matching Pairs
Scatter one set of cards around the room.  With the other set, hold up number cards, challenge your toddler to find the matching pair and run back to you with it. For every correct match give lots of praise/high fives/raisins – whatever will motivate them most!

Extension: For older children, put a blindfold on and challenge them to find matching pairs by touch.

5. Build a Number Tower

numbertower2
Put post-it’s with numbers onto building blocks.
Ask toddler to find number 1/2etc. in order, using number cards as a visual prompt.  When he finds a block, have him place the block on the tower, and count them together, pointing to the numbers as you go.  Finish by toppling the tower!

Extension: with older children, try this with two sets of numbered blocks and race each other to construct a tower of 5/10 (with numbers in order)

6. Stepping stones

Write numbers on paper/card (old cereal boxes work well for this), create stepping stones and have fun jumping on them.  Hold up and call out numbers for your toddler to run to.

Extension: just call out the numbers without holding up the card. For older kids, give them a sum, they have to work out the total and run to that number.

8. Peg Puzzle Number Hunt with trucks/shopping basket

pegpuzzlehunt2

This game evolved from T’s love of vehicles! Lay out number peg puzzle on the floor/table. Hide peg puzzle pieces all around the room. Send your toddler on a hunt to find the numbers, bring them back to you in the truck and put them into the puzzle!

This is a great, active game that uses up some energy, while reinforcing number recognition. Another fave around here, now that mummy’s energy levels are slowing down a bit.

Extension: Once your toddler’s number recognition begins to improve, call out numbers for her to find, without using number cards; for older children, ask them to find the number that is 1 more/1 less than 7 etc.

A Word About Peg Puzzles
If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may have noticed we use peg puzzles a lot for games. It really is worth investing in a few, especially a number peg puzzle. Why? (I hear you ask).

Because:

the pegs are perfect for strengthening little fingers

they are far easier to pick up than number cards or even foam or magnetic numbers

they provide you with an instant reference for number games (you could use the peg numbers for any of the games here, except the one in the bath)

they are tactile, so your child can feel the shape of the number

AND – if that wasn’t enough reason, the puzzle is a game all by itself!

Right-ho. I shall stop waffling now, because I have reached the end of my little list.

Still need more number play ideas? Check out my Toddler Number Activities Pinterest Board for more simple toddler number play ideas. I’m going to be delving in there over the next few weeks to keep T occupied.

I won’t be writing any big posts for a while, but there may be a few little surprises on the way in the next month, so stay tuned…

Until next time, have a lovely day!

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2 thoughts on “8 Simple Games That Teach Your Toddler Numbers and Counting

  1. LOVE all the suggestions Marianne. Especially using ducks or natural objects… There is such a good variety of activities and so much more meaningful than parroting numbers!

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