It is possible that when you read this title, ‘How to Learn Maths from the Beginning’ you might have thought that meant school-going age and no one would blame you.

For a long time, the incredible mathematical abilities of babies and small children were largely ignored. Today, thanks to several studies that reveal that even infants are able to perceive and understand values and numbers, this is changing.

Further findings have actually shown that when babies are introduced to numbers, and even encouraged to develop a sense for numbers it can help them with math-related things later in life.

What is Maths for a Child Under the Age of One?

Understanding how to learn maths from the beginning means understanding the cognitive capacity of a baby, and this is complex.

It is well known that babies make sense of their environment using their sense of sight. In many studies, the behaviour of babies is observed when their facial expressions are analysed. It may therefore sound outrageous, but it is true that math-related things can be recognised from the moment they open their eyes.

In research by neurologists from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, based in North Carolina, six-month-old babies revealed that they have an innate capacity for understanding numbers, even before language development. When you look at it this way, maybe the world is all about maths!

In the study, babies were shown two screens, both with eight dots sometimes and eight and sixteen dots at others. The infants would focus on the screen with the changed number for every graphic.

baby playng with toys on mat
Babies can understand quantities and other maths concepts.- Source: Unsplash

A few years later, the same study demonstrated that the babies who were more attentive during the experiment – you guessed it – found it easier to grasp other math-related things.

This means that when we actually place emphasis on how to learn maths from the beginning of our lives, it could minimise the otherwise-inevitable math problems in real life, later on.

In another important Harvard University study by Dr. Elizabeth S. Spelke, the level of comprehension in babies was measured. Through the concept of visual evaluation, it was discovered that babies can estimate quantities.

In the study, when an adult dived their hand into a bucket that was 80% full of white of ping pong balls, while the remaining 20% were red, the babies showed surprise when more red balls, over white ones, were taken out.

Remarkably, this ability to perceive quantities develops quickly during a child’s first year and it is all about maths! Being able to recognise differences between two groups of objects is how to learn maths from the beginning. Here are two examples:

  • From the age of six months, babies can distinguish between two collections when one is double the size of the other.
  • From nine to 12 months, their understanding of math-related things improves and they are able to determine the difference between a group of eight or 10 toys.

By the time a baby reaches one year old their ability to know how to learn maths from the beginning increases as they begin to walk and talk.

As they take steps to move around, they develop spatial awareness which, is all about maths because it is the basis for geometry! Language acquisition then allows children to put names to numerals and this is how they learn to count. Even very basic calculation is not far off by this stage as children are adding and subtracting without even realising it.

For instance, playtime can become all about maths if and when a parent wants it to: children know that if you take one toy away from a group of three, two will remain. Similarly, they know that when you add a toy to a group of two, they will have three.

By all accounts, there is enough evidence to suggest that young children are able to combine observation with the skill for manipulating an outcome which makes it easier to solve math problems in real life when they are older.

child playing with red lego brick
Support your child's development by giving them toys that stimulate mathematical thinking.- Source: Unsplash

But what is maths if not a discovery at one’s own pace? For this reason, each child should be encouraged to blossom in their own time and with good support to stimulate understanding.

How Early Childhood Development is All About Maths

Of course, language acquisition is an enormous part of early childhood development, but as demonstrated through the research mentioned above, most of a very young child’s development is all about maths.

This is why educational toys play such a huge part in a household where there are children. The importance of puzzles and games that are based on shapes cannot be overemphasised. 3D Shapes like polygons can go a long way to develop logic and thinking skills.

But why is this so critical? Some would say that life is all about maths and geometry is a major maths discipline. By doing puzzles and educational games, not only will children improve their perception skills and spatial awareness but these activities could help with math problems in real life later on.

What is Maths for a Toddler?

It is wonderful to watch how something as simple as stacking cubes can not only entertain the creative side of a child’s mind but also teach them how to categorise and organise too. In this way, they are taught how to think logically and manipulate objects at the same time.

What is Maths for a Parent of a Toddler?

Of course, as a parent, the role is not to teach maths, but by facilitating and making maths games available the parent enables the child to make important independent discoveries.

Have you ever wondered why a baby just loves to throw away anything that comes within reach? It is actually the discovery of gravity! Once we know that so much of their development is all about maths, some behaviour becomes less annoying and even more wondrous! Anything hands-on is brilliant for toddlers who get to learn about the world through touch. Other tasks, like filling, stacking, emptying, or fitting are also excellent past times for young children.

For school-going children, the process of learning mathematics is the same. Development works better at an individual pace and practice is essential for progress.

Around the age of only 18 months, old toddlers begin to develop their gross and fine motor skills as they become coordinated. They also begin to think mathematically which makes the following games perfectly age-appropriate.

  • Building blocks like Lego Duplo
  • Puzzles with basic shapes
  • Puppets
selection of orange toys arranged in pattern
Play games that incorporate sequences and patterns. - Source: Unsplash

Singing nursery rhymes can go a long way to helping children learn to count. What is more, children can act out the words and count on their fingers which helps them to learn.

It’s important that children use numbers in activities every day. For instance, as a game, parents could make them count the number of a particular object (like an indoor plant) around the house. Games like these can really help children to visualise the results of their sums.

Learning Geometric Shapes

Once children recognise shapes it is also important that they can name them. Parents should help them along by using words that describe shape in everyday conversation.

For example, they could ask the child whether they would like a square of chocolate or a cube of cheese.

Learning about Volume with Liquids

As adults, we take it for granted that we understand volume, which is essential in maths. However, someone probably played a game of pouring with us when we were little. Children can have difficulty in deciding which glass holds the most liquid, so activities like this, can demonstrate really well, both numbers and volume, to a child.

Bath time is a great opportunity to demonstrate volume and play fun games. A parent could show that a glass that is bigger can hold the same amount as a glass that is smaller. They could even be taught water displacement by pointing out that the water rises when they get in the bath, even though the volume has not changed.

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Games with Patterns and Sequence

Another great game for a parent to start is to line up different objects and encourage the child to continue the pattern. Take different size spoons for example which will help the child to learn size before they can even count. This is a great way to hone logic and reasoning skills from a young age.

When it comes to maths activities it’s important to allow the child to learn at their own pace so that they don’t become stressed. All of these basic topics and games have a way of paying off by setting them up for formal maths learning in the future!

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.