Mathematical concepts

Supporting Early Math Skills

Mathematical concepts are important components of rational and logical thinking


It is lunchtime, and Dad makes nine-month-old Jacob a lunch of carrots and soup. After Jacob finishes the tomato soup, Dad gives Jacob a carrot. Jacob eats the first carrot, but as Dad gives Jacob another one, he hears Jacob say “No, no” and shake his head.


Jacob says “No, no” when he is satisfied with the amount of carrots he is given. Jacob demonstrates an understanding for enough, which is an early math concept.

As your infant interacts with his environment and with people in his world, he will use math concepts to make sense of the world in which he lives.

Infants develop math skills in the first year of life and are natural mathematicians. Your baby was born with an understanding of math concepts that involve quantities (e.g. when he cries because he wants more of his bottle or food).

Patterns provide another math concept for infants. Your infant’s ability to experience patterns and routines enables him to become a logical thinker and to understand how his environment works in a predictable way. For instance, as you care for your baby, he begins to recognize and anticipate a pattern of sequential activities that demonstrate how you will care for him on a daily basis.

You can play games with your infant, such as Pat-a-Cake or Peek-a- Boo to allow your baby to experience sequences and patterns.

As your infant recognizes patterns, he will also begin to understand sequencing. Sequencing is a particular order in which related events or things follow each other. Recognizing sequences helps your infant develop a sense of order, logic, and reasoning. Your baby sees the sequences of activities within his day and is able to predict what may happen next.

By age one, your child will become more involved with activities that require sequencing, such as waking up, eating breakfast, washing up, and brushing teeth. This is a sequence of events for your child. Becoming aware of similarities and differences is awareness of sorting and classifying, which are mathematical concepts used in learning.

Becoming aware of similarities and differences is awareness of sorting and classifying, which are mathematical concepts used in learning.

As your infant approaches 11 months, he will learn the concepts of more and enough, which are two of the first number concepts that children develop.

There are lots of opportunities during your baby’s day to discover math concepts through play and to hear new math words.

At around a year of age, your infant will try to fit objects into various sizes of containers, which is the beginning of learning geometry (shapes and space). As your child approaches age two, he will learn how to do simple puzzles. Even though your baby was born with a basic mathematical understanding, parents and other adults that interact with your infant have a very important role to play. Your infant will develop and refine math concepts and skills through the routines, experiences, and interactions you have with him everyday.

By being aware of these early mathematical concepts, you can be more intentional in how you support your baby’s math learning as well as school readiness as time goes on.

Math is everywhere; it is a way of thinking and problem solving. You use it more with your infant than you may realize. Think about the last time you played This Little Piggy with your infant’s fingers or toes. As you take one finger or toe at a time to do the rhyme, you are showing your infant the math concept of sequential order.

Support your baby’s development of mathematical concepts by using math talk, such as “You have two eyes and so does your bear. Let’s count: one, two.” You can also say, “You have two bottles. Let’s start with the one that has more formula (or breast milk).” Think about how many ways you are using math in your interactions with your baby. Remember, the key is to intentionally introduce math concepts every day with your baby.

The more you engage your infant in math play and math talk, the better chance he will have to develop the early math foundations necessary for learning math well into adulthood.

Activities to support mathematical development:

1 to 4 months: Read board books that incorporate math concepts.

4 to 8 months: Find materials with different textures (smooth satin, bumpy washcloths, soft cotton). Rub them over your baby’s arms, legs, and bottoms of his feet and talk about how they feel. Fill empty water bottles with baby powder, cotton balls, or paper clips. Seal the top and let your infant explore them.

8 to 12 months: Tie colored scarves together and put them in a paper towel tube with a little bit sticking out. Let your baby pull the scarves through the tube. Lay out boxes for your baby to crawl through, and talk about what your baby is doing as he crawls.