Math and Numbers

Mathematical Thinking

Math and number awareness involves your child recognizing numbers, counting, learning one-toone correspondence, recognizing patterns, sorting and classifying.


Matthew is at the table with his blocks and a new scale that was given to him by his dad. He decides to try it out by putting several blocks in one of the scale baskets. As he continues to add blocks, Matthew begins to see that the basket is tipping to one side and is full. Matthew then decides to pick up more blocks and add those to the other side of the scale.


In this scenario Matthew is demonstrating his ability to measure and weigh blocks as he figures out how he can get balance on both sides of the scale. Measuring and weighing are math activities; they allow him to think mathematically and strengthen his math skills. Parents can support their child by asking questions during the activity (e.g. “Why do you think the scale is tipping?”).

Math and number awareness comprise the foundation for learning more advanced math concepts.

Even before your child starts school, he is developing an understanding of math concepts through everyday interactions (as your child walks up the stairs he counts each step). Mathematical thinking involves your child using his brain to play with the concepts of parts and wholes. Mathematical thinking also occurs when your child becomes fascinated by the insides of things and how different parts make the whole thing work (e.g. puzzles).

Early in your child’s life, he was learning about math by using his senses and body to make sense of the environment. When your child held your hand and saw that yours was big while his was small, this demonstrated an early math skill. This experience was preparing him for understanding and naming small, big, and bigger—all mathematical concepts—when he got older. Everything you will see your child do from this point forward will be more complicated.

Engaging in mathematical talk using quantity words more and less supports math thinking skills. It is hard to imagine that your child can develop such comprehensive early math skills, but he can. Using mathematical thinking skills includes his working not only on counting numbers, but also learning about geometry, measurement, algebra, data analysis, and probability.

Encourage your child’s mathematical thinking and understanding during play. Ask your child questions such as “What can you do to make your tower taller?” or “How many dolls did you put in the crib?” Math is part of everyday life for your child, meaning you can provide a lot of opportunities for your child to think about math and to physically engage in math through regular routines.

Over the course of the next week focus on intentionally doing at least three of the following math routines with your child.

1. Lay out your child’s outfit for the day on his bed. Ask your child to first put on his undergarments, and then have him count how many pieces of clothing are left on the bed. Next ask your child to put on his pants, and count how many pieces of clothing are left on the bed. Keep going till he is all dressed. This is providing an opportunity for your child to work with subtraction in a simple, age-appropriate way.

2. Before dinner ask your child to set out the napkins on the table. As he sets out each napkin have him count by saying, “One napkin, two napkins, three napkins, four napkins ...” This is giving your child an opportunity to learn addition.

3. Give your child a banana or apple for afternoon snack. Cut the piece of fruit in half while he watches you, then ask him to put the fruit back together. Let him demonstrate his ability first by watching, then give verbal cues (perhaps by saying “two halves”) and contextual cues such as indicating where the pieces might fit together. This is giving your child an opportunity to play with the concepts of parts and whole.

4. After dinner, have a frozen treat for dessert. Ask your child to count how many people are at the table, and then have him count how many treats he needs so everybody gets one. This will give your child an opportunity to listen to math language (how many).