Preschool Math

Teaching Mathematics: How Early Can I Start?

Linda C. Burks, Ed. D.,

You start teaching as soon as your baby is born. When you feed her, change her diaper, and hold her, your newborn learns she is loved. But 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. 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 cups 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.

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Around one year of age, begin to read to your baby. In addition to introducing your baby to art, "Sharing with Renoir" 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," "Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100," 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 a shape sorter or simple puzzle. Teach them to form simple patterns by stringing large wooden beads.


Preschoolers are ready for even more discoveries. If you provide them with opportunities, then they will learn. Pattern Blocks remain my top choice for this age. Making design after design, preschoolers can be amused for hours. Books such as "Pattern Animals" can also 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 my website, Here you will also find top picks for each grade level. See specifics on recommended resources to make learning math a fun, positive, and meaningful experience at

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