Children Are Born Mathematicians

Children are mathematicians from the day they are born. Even before they can add or subtract, their relationships with people and their interactions with the environment set the stage for the development of mathematical concepts.
There are important similarities between the development of mathematical concepts and the development of literacy. From the day they are born, children learn language by listening and by eventually speaking and writing. Reading to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers promotes learning to read and write by immersing children in language and giving them an opportunity to interact with it.
In the same way, children build the foundations for math during their first few months. Before they can add or even count, children must construct ideas about mathematics, such as order, sequence, and the seemingly simple idea that a number represents a specific quantity. Children's logical and mathematical thinking develops by being exercised and stimulated. You can support this development by offering objects to compare, using rhythm activities and music, modeling mathematical behavior, and incorporating math into everyday activities.
Using drums with infants and toddlers can help them experience mathematics. Take turns repeating each other's beats; first you beat the drum twice, then she beats the drum twice. If she takes the lead, echo her playing. This helps support your child's understanding of a one-to-one correspondence.
Even children under the age of two can be exposed to math every day. Take advantage of any opportunity to count to help children understand one-to-one correspondence and quantity. Asking children to compare groups of objects or quantities helps them develop concepts of more, less, and the same. Just as reading to infants and toddlers helps them build literacy skills, using math around children helps them begin to understand number concepts.
Children who are surrounded with interesting objects are naturally led to make relationships between those objects. As infants and toddlers, children should have an abundance of different-shaped blocks and tiles they can match and compare.
One easy way to promote math to three and four-year-olds is simply to ask them to use mathematical concepts in their activities. If your child is using blocks, ask, "How many blocks do you have?" or "How many more do you need?" Children are willing and even excited to count objects and make mathematical relationships if you encourage them. Ask your children to divide up snacks, or help set the table. They'll get to use their own mathematical problem-solving ability to figure out the best way to perform the tasks.
Questioning strategies, activities, and simple games offer great opportunities for parents and other adults to help children construct basic mathematical concepts. We must understand that construction of mathematical concepts begins the day a child is born, and offer young children opportunities and materials to promote their development of mathematical thinking.
Excerpted from "Children Are Born Mathematicians: Promoting the Construction of Early Mathematical Concepts in Children under Five" by Eugene Geist - an article in the NAEYC journal, Young Children.

Early Years Are Learning Years™ is a regular series from NAEYC ( providing tips for giving young children a great start on learning.