May 17, 2023

Maths in the Early Years

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Maths in the Early Years

From the moment your baby is born, they are surrounded by mathematical concepts in one form or another; Maths is all around us, and we use it in our daily lives, often without even realising it! 

As your baby explores space, body movements, and body parts, they build an internal map of the environment which helps them become less confused about where they are in space. It also helps them to feel more competent navigating their environment, and enjoy play that involves large movements, like running and jumping. For example, they learn where they are in the room—under the table, on the bed, next to a teddy bear.

Even from the very beginning of their day, your little one is involved in some structured routine which continues around the times of the day, experiencing and exploring daily patterns. 

How to support your little one's mathematical journey from the beginning

Start early


It is never too early to introduce your baby to maths; you can start talking about numbers and counting before they speak. Singing counting nursery rhymes introduce children to numbers and learning counting in sequence in a fun and interactive way. 

Adding some props will support their understanding even further as you sing and show them the objects so they begin to explore amounts and counting.

Here is a list of some famous counting songs and rhymes to try with your little one:

  • Five Little Ducks

  • Five Little Speckled Frogs

  • Five little Men in a flying saucer

  • The Ants Go Marching

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I Caught

  • Ten Green Bottles

  • Ten In A Bed

  • Five Little Monkeys

  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

  • Ten Fat Sausages

  • Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree

  • Zoom zoom zoom

  • Alice the Camel

  • One potato, Two Potatoes

  • Five Currant Buns

For example, if singing Three Little Speckled Frogs, get hold of three frog toys, and as you name them, line them up for them to see and explore.


You don't need a maths book or story to include maths in your story-time routine. However, it is worth investing in a couple of number books for your little one to explore; they are such a fun way to learn about numbers and counting. 

Nonetheless, if you don't have any number books or stories, you can turn any book into a counting one!

All you need to do is describe the pictures, the shapes and the colours that you can see, point and count the objects in the photos, e.g. "Look, one, two, three animals, one cow, one duck and one dog, how many animals? Three! One, two, three!"


Learning to count is SO much more than reciting numbers in order! It is fascinating to hear our children begin reciting numbers; we often mistake this for counting. However, knowing how to say numbers in the correct order and understanding how to count are two different things.

Children use their memory skills to learn numbers in order, whereas counting is a little bit more complex; it means understanding that we put one word with one item. In other words, you can't point to one spoon and say, 'one, two spoon.

As their counting understanding becomes more robust, they begin to explore the concept of cardinality, which is understanding that when they are counting, the last number they say means how many there are all together. 

Count everything to bring number context to your little one's every day experiences through things such as these:

  • Counting sock you take off when changing their clothes

  • The number of wipes you take when changing their nappy

  • The toys surrounding them

  • Each step as little one climbs the stairs

  • Your little one's fingers when you are helping them to put on their gloves

Child building with wooden blocks

Count things your little one can't touch

Part of learning to count involves the understanding there are lots of different things that we can count. But, unfortunately, children's first impression is to think the only things you count are actual objects. 

So count anything they cannot touch, jumps, smiles, and claps to help your little one understand they can't always physically hold or feel what they are counting.

Use mathematical language 

Using maths language will help your little one explore early mathematics ideas, such as subtraction and addition, long before they actually learn it! And using mathematical terms with them can be more straightforward than you might think! 

  • For example, when having snacks or meals together, you can use words such as 'more' and 'less' in sentences, e.g. "Would you like more apple?" or "Would you prefer less banana?". These simple words allow them to begin understanding differences and changes in quantities.

  • As mentioned before, cooking and baking can teach young children early mathematical concepts such as size, shapes, space and measurement. 

  • Involve your little one with each recipe step, talking about numbers, shapes, measurements, sizes, colours, textures, etc. For instance, "We need one, or two full cups of flour.", "Let's cut the orange in half."

  • Make playdough together, again allowing your little one to be involved with measuring the flour, salt and oil, tipping ingredients in the bowl and using tools such as a spoon to mix, and using their hands and fingers.

Use your fingers

Your fingers are a great tool to help you teach your little one to count! Using your fingers to show one, two, and three when you are counting and saying number words is beneficial to their mathematical development; you help your child link the number words to the actual amounts.

Put things in groups

The process of 'subitising' is also an essential aspect of counting. This concept helps children to see, solve, and manipulate numbers in their heads, developing their number sense. 

  • Support them in learning this skill by arranging items in groups of two or three and mentioning the number. Children love lining things up! When they do this, wait until they finish and then count the number of objects, 1,2,3,4,5. You made a line of 5 toys!!

  • This will assist your little one in visualising the amount as well as the number.

Water play

As you may have noticed, your children love playing with water. Whether in the bathtub at home, in the pool, or at the park. Children just love water play! It is a fun, relaxing sensory activity that will give them lots of joy. In addition, water play also has many learning and mathematical development benefits.

Water play involves lots of scooping, pouring, squeezing, and filling. These actions teach your little one about capacity, measuring, volume and motion. They can also be introduced to terms such as full/empty, more/less, and shallow/deep.

The outdoors

The outdoors and the natural world stimulate children's curiosity and imagination. This sensory overload experience encourages observation, experimenting, material manipulation, and testing abilities. 

In addition, your little one explores maths through 'real-life' experiences such as these:

  • A simple walk can become a mathematical learning experience by making it a game about spotting numbers and shapes within the environment, "I can see a square! Look at the window; it is square, one two three four sides." 

  • On a shopping trip, get your little one to gather the items you need for home, for example, "Can I have two red apples, please." "How much is this ice cream? Look is £1.20". 

  • On a visit to the shop, they may see numbers on doors, street signs, car registration plates and buses. When buying from the shop, let your little one use your card to 'tap' the reader, or hand over some coins to provide them with some experience and understand the concept of money.

  • Get your little one a purse for them to keep some money. If your little one is old enough, give them some real coins to keep in their purse or wallet, they may begin role-playing at home, acting out those experiences, buying things, etc. You can also encourage them to make their own money!



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