These simple, classic baby activities may help your child’s math skills, and they’re fun too!
by Anita Sethi, Ph. D.
They say a child’s work is play, and now research shows that simple, classic baby games may even help with math skills as your child grows. We’re not suggesting you sing square-root lullabies and flash addition cards at sleepy-eyed infants — having fun with your baby doesn’t have to be a job for you, too. These easy activities will get you both giggling and learning.
Size Things Up
You’ve done “How big is baby? Soooo big!” Now expand on that concept by pointing out other size differences: “You’ve got a small cup, I have a big cup.” You can put the items in size order or grab a toy that does it for you, like a set of nesting cups or blocks in graduated sizes. Location matters, too: Try sitting next to your baby, so you have the same perspective, and put a toy in various locations around a box or larger toy. Then talk about “next to,” “above,” and “below.” Sing a little song as you dance the toy around the box, calling out “in front” and “behind.”
Mix and Match
Nothing beats a sorting toy for teaching your tot about size and shape. Another easy way to introduce these ideas is by sorting familiar objects. For example, fill a small bowl with some Cheerios and Goldfish. One at a time, take out a Goldfish and put it in a pile; then take out a Cheerio and put it in a separate pile. You can do this with anything — different-color socks, toy cars, or blocks. After his first birthday, your toddler may be able to do this activity on his own.
Every parent knows how to patty-cake, and going through the motions while singing and holding your baby’s hands is probably some of the earliest laughing you’ll do together. Besides promoting language skills and muscle coordination, clapping teaches pre-math concepts such as rhythm and “pattern finding” and helps your baby learn to predict what comes next. Put some music on and clap and dance to the beat. Or give your child a maraca to shake or “drum” with, then copy what she does. In the car or the bath, you can rap out rhythms using anything you’ve got.
Count On This
“This Little Piggy” is a great sensory game because your baby gets to hear you singing, feel you touching, and see you moving. You can graduate to “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” moving your baby’s fingers or your own as each monkey topples. When you sing, point out how the numbers change with each verse: “There were five little monkeys, and one is gone! Now there are one-two-three-four!” (Go to Babytalk.com for all the words to classic counting songs.) Other ideas: Count the stripes on his shirt, count your way up the stairs, or tally up the toy trains on the table, picking one up with each number.
Of course, games are meant to be fun. Don’t be frustrated if your baby doesn’t seem interested; you can always try again another day. Hey, Goldfish are good for eating, too!
Contributing editor and mom ANITA SETHI, Ph.D., is a child-
development researcher at New York University.