One, two…three! It’s exciting to hear your little mathematician count his first sequence of numbers. And the best part is that babies and toddlers develop counting skills through simple play activities parents and caregivers do with them every day (hint: our BabySparks development program includes lots of fun counting activities that support all of the milestones below!).
The following counting milestones are general – remember that every child develops at his or her own pace.
Your toddler’s counting skills start with understanding the concept of sequence. At this age, your baby will develop this understanding by participating in daily routines. For example, he’ll know that he eats soon after he wakes up, followed by playtime and a short nap. You can help him learn this skill by explaining upcoming events using sequencing words. For example, “All done with lunch! Next, let’s wash your hands. Then, we can read a book.”
It’s never too early to help your child recognize numbers even though he won’t understand what they mean yet. Reading books or playing with toys and puzzles with numbers makes it easy to count and name numbers together. You can also use words like big, bigger, small, smaller to compare number quantities.
Between ages 1 and 2, your toddler will develop a deeper understanding of numbers and what they mean. It’s common for toddlers at this age to try to count objects but say numbers randomly or out of order (“1, 5, 2, 3…”). This shows that he’s beginning to see that numbers tell us how many.
Your toddler can also recognize simple patterns as he nears age two. He might notice your shirt has stripes in a pattern of blue-yellow-blue-yellow, for example. Patterns recognition aids sequencing, predicting, and problem-solving skills, all of which work together with counting skills.
Now that your toddler has the fundamentals down, he’ll begin to work with numbers in more meaningful ways. Beginning around 25 months, your toddler begins to:
- Match real objects with symbolic ones (example: holding a toy elephant up to an elephant in a book)
- Gain a basic understanding of one-to-one correspondence (example: placing one pom-pom in each space in an ice cube tray)
- Understand simple quantification (example: one group of objects has less than another)
Between 28 and 30 months, your toddler will better grasp number sequence, understanding that one number comes after another. Toddlers also show off their number sense, like attempting to count how many people are in a room (he may only correctly get to 2 or 3) or exclaiming that it’s getting close to bedtime. Your toddler may also begin displaying how old he is by holding up his fingers.
Your toddler can now recognize at least two basic shapes, too! Shapes are important for number recognition, which supports counting skills.
Starting around 34 months, your toddler can instantly recognize how many objects are in a set up to three without counting them. He may also try to count to ten from memory, but will probably still make a few mistakes. That’s okay! Keep counting with him. It won’t be long until he can count to ten by himself and understand what those numbers mean.
Counting really begins to jump during the preschool years (3 to 5), but only from a well-laid foundation of mathematical concepts during baby and toddlerhood!