We know that reading to your baby is important, but what about math? Doesn’t that come later? Turns out, researchers have found that parents can help their children perform better in school by teaching math concepts early. Gillian Starkey, a professor in Neuroscience with an emphasis on children’s developing math skills, says:
"Basic number skills that children learn early are a strong predictor of school success, and parents are often surprised to learn that there are many ways to encourage this learning during the infant and toddler years."
Here's what you can do to help your baby get a head start in math:
You might not think about counting out loud for your baby, since it will be a few years before they can count on their own. However, researchers recommend introducing number words early.
There are all kinds of opportunities to count things with your baby. You can show them how you point at objects as you count them and, hand-over-hand, point and count with them. Count produce in the store, objects in books, bites of food, their fingers and toes.
You can reinforce your baby’s knowledge of different quantities in a 2:1 ratio by offering them the choice between two handfuls of snacks (one with 2 and one with 1; or one with 3 and one with 6). Help your baby notice the larger quantity.
Note that at this age your baby will believe that if you break a cracker, the broken pieces add up to more than the single unbroken cracker.
To help your baby understand the relative concept of “big” and “little,” find items that are as similar as possible, except that one is little and the other is big. Ideally, the big items should be much bigger so your baby can really see the difference.
For example: an orange, a tangerine; a big purple ball, a little purple ball; a big spoon, a little spoon; a big pinecone, a little pinecone. Or a little baby, a big sibling!
To begin introducing the concept of addition, touch your baby’s hands one at a time, counting out loud (“one, two”) and then place a ball into each hand and count those out loud.
When they're around two years old, your child might start to “count” by reciting number words in order and pointing to things in an attempt to mimic what you do when counting. You may notice they are not yet making the connection between an actual quantity and the corresponding number word they are saying.
Later, around age three or four, they will start to understand what math experts call the concept of “one-to-one correspondence”—one ball goes with the number one, and two balls can be counted “one, two.”
Patterns show up over and over again in the study of numbers. Introducing patterns helps your baby understand rules and begin making predictions about what comes next in a sequence.
You can help your baby hear and recognize patterns by shaking a rattle or tapping a spoon in rhythm—shake, shake, pause; shake, shake, pause—then vary the pattern. This helps them begin to understand patterns and build associations between numbers, sounds, and movement.