Learn how to teach numbers to kids using fun, hands-on activities that teach toddlers and preschoolers number recognition and how to count.
Numbers are all around us. Naturally, toddlers and preschoolers will notice and want to learn more about them. Teaching numbers to kids can be a simple and fun experience when you use hands-on activities.
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With young children, I find it best to encourage learning through play activities. I do not drill my children with flashcards, nor do I have any kind of deadline to when I want them to have a skill learned. Our homeschool preschool time is very informal and full of child-led, hands-on play. When you want to know how to teach numbers to kids, begin with the basics and keep it simple.
3 Tips for Teaching Preschoolers Something New
- Take it slow. Children will learn at their own pace. When you try to help your child learn new concepts, go slowly.
- Introduce it naturally. When a child learns something through the normal course of their day, it makes a connection with them. This connection helps them retain the information better.
- Give it time. Along with taking it slowly, make sure that you allow plenty of time for your child to learn a new concept. Children all need different amounts of time to learn information, so don’t try to rush their learning or feel like you have to follow some sort of timetable.
How to Naturally Teach Numbers and the Concept of Counting to Kids
The concept of numbers and counting can be difficult for many young children to grasp. In fact, my youngest has had difficulty remembering the numbers in correct order. But with repeated exposure to numbers and counting, it will eventually click.
The best way to help children learn numbers and how to count is to continue to expose them to experiences where they get the chance to practice counting. Below I share many ideas of activities and books that will help with the concept of learning numbers and counting for toddlers and preschoolers.
Find Examples of Numbers and Counting in Your Day
An easy way to help your toddler or preschooler learn numbers is by including them in daily activities.
- Read books about numbers to your toddler or preschooler.
- Show your child how to count using their fingers. Encourage them to count with you.
- Count everyday objects around your house. For example, have your child count forks and/or napkins when helping set the table for dinner.
- Count your child’s toys. Small cars, lego pieces, coins, and dolls make great items to group and count. Crayons are also easy items to count.
- Include toys with numbers for your child to play with.
Use Toys to Introduce Numbers and Teach Counting
Young children learn best through hands-on play. Knowing how to teach numbers to kids doesn’t have to be hard. Using toys, puzzles, and other hands-on activities will help toddlers and preschoolers learn while having fun playing.
Toys, Games, and Puzzles that Teach Numbers or Counting
When you purchase toys for your children, try to find some that are also educational in a fun, hands-on way. That way your child will be learning math and language skills through everyday play, or reinforcing skills you’ve been teaching them.
Toddlers and preschoolers love doing puzzles. You can find many puzzles that include numbers. We really love Melissa and Doug around here. They are sturdy puzzles with great educational value. My youngest has enjoyed the latches number puzzle for awhile now. Not only does he learn numbers and counting while doing it, but he gets to work on the fine motor skills of opening and closing the locks.
Using self-correcting puzzles are perfect when you need your toddler or preschooler to work alone while you are homeschooling older children or need to cook, clean, or work from home. Your youngster will learn important number sense and counting skills while seeing right away whether they are correct or not.
Number and Counting Games
Another fun, hands-on way to know how to teach numbers to kids is through number or counting games. Many of these games are easy enough for your preschooler to play, yet fun enough that your older kids will want to play too. This is great if you are homeschooling multiple children so that you can work with a child while your other children play games with your toddler or preschooler.
We have a couple of counting games that our preschoolers have enjoyed. Hi Ho! Cherry-O is a favorite counting game in many families. Apparently there are several different versions of this game, some with all cherries while others have three or four different colors of fruit. No matter which version you play, it’s a very simple game that encourages counting, adding, and subtracting.
Another great kids counting game is Chutes & Ladders. My older boys have fun playing this with my youngest, so it’s a game that older kids can also enjoy.
Fun, Hands-On Number Activities for Preschoolers
Create a Number Basket
Toddlers and preschoolers learn most through play, so setting up number activities help them learn number sense and counting through exploration. One of the ways I did this was by setting up a numbers basket. I gathered wooden numbers I purchased on etsy and smaller wooden numbers from a puzzle. Then I added in felt wool balls, linking cubes, and dice. You could add in any kind of counters that you’d like: small erasers, coins, counting bears.
The first couple of times I introduced the numbers basket, I sat with my child. I let him explore the contents. I helped him put the numbers in order. Then together we counted the correct amount of counters and placed them under each corresponding number. After a couple of times of exploring it together, I showed him where it belonged on the shelf. Once something is on a shelf, he knows he’s welcome to play with it.
Tip: For young children, or those just learning numbers, begin with just 1-5 in your numbers basket. Too many numbers are overwhelming.
Sensory activities that use numbers and counting
Sensory activities create really fun learning materials for toddlers and preschoolers. Playdough is a wonderful tool for teaching many concepts to young children. For instance, colored playdough helps toddlers and preschoolers learn colors and mixing colors together to create new ones.
To use playdough for learning numbers, little ones can roll certain amounts of playdough into balls. They can also work on number formation using playdough. An added bonus is that manipulating playdough builds the finger muscles necessary for writing. You can find playdough mats online that add to the fun.
Sensory bins are another fun way to teach kids through play. For a numbers sensory bin, add in small wood numbers found at craft stores along with a filler like rice. You can also add in small erasers or other counters. I also usually include a small pair of tongs and a bowl in my child’s sensory bins. Your child can search for numbers and then find that many objects hiding in the rice.
Fine Motor Activities that reinforce numbers and counting
Along with sensory activities, many fine motor activities will also help preschoolers learn numbers. For example, one easy activity simply uses pipe cleaners and pony beads. Your child can add a certain number of pony beads to a pipe cleaner, counting the beads as they are added. You can also write a number on masking tape that you add to the top of a pipe cleaner. Then your child adds that amount of pony beads to the pipe cleaner.
Additionally, counters make fantastic fine motor activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Counters could be manipulatives that you purchase, such as two-color counters or fun animal counters. However, counters can also simply be rocks or small toys your child already has.
Another fine motor activity my kids have enjoyed is using links to add certain amounts. My youngest especially loves sitting with the container and seeing how many he can link together. Then we’ll go through and count them together. These links are also great for learning colors and patterns for toddlers and preschoolers.
Once your children understand counting, then they can use counting clip cards to reinforce those skills. An added benefit is that they’ll also work on fine motor skills. They can clip the answer with a clothespin or use counters to mark the correct answer. You can use cards that are themed for the season for more fun and variety.
Number Books and Counting Books
Using number books is a simple, yet fun way to teach number recognition and counting. The simplest way to use books to teach counting is to simply read the book to your child. As you read, you can count the objects on each page. For example, in the book How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten, you could have your child count the one teddy bear or two balloons mentioned in the story.
If you have time and your child really enjoys a particular number book, you can do additional activities based on the book. For example, before Christmas I read Ten Gingerbread Men to my preschooler. After reading the book, I grabbed some gingerbread shaped crayons we had made. My son laid out ten of the gingerbread man crayons on the floor. As I read each page, he would take away one gingerbread man and we’d count how many were left. This was such a great way to introduce subtraction to him in a hands-on activity.
Counting Books Kids Love
- Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews
- Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh
- Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins
- How to Dinosaurs Count to Ten? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
- Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
- Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr. Seuss
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (This book is also great for teaching days of the week.)
- Bear Counts by Karma Wilson
- 123 Peas by Keith Baker
- Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson
My Book of Numbers
Kids love coloring, so they’ll love to make their own number book. Creating the book will also help them with number recognition and how to count. Get the free My Book of Numbers booklet for your toddlers or preschoolers to use for number recognition and learning to count.
My Book of Numbers is a free gift for those who are members of the Homeschooling in Progress community. Join and you’ll receive other resources, homeschooling tips and ideas right to your email inbox.
To make the My Book of Numbers, print off the pages of the numbers you’d like your children to learn. Toddlers can start with numbers 1-5, while preschoolers can do numbers 1-10. This number book is also versatile. Along with creating a book, you can also print off the pages and laminate them to use as number playdough mats. Your kids can practice number formation rolling the playdough into numbers. They can also roll balls of playdough to match each number.
Learning how to teach numbers to kids can be fun and simple. Kids learn best through play, so consider toys, puzzles and games about numbers and counting. Create simple fine motor activities about numbers to help your child recognize numbers and learn to count. Finally, counting books and number books are also great ways to reinforce numbers. Keeping learning fun, simple, and hands-on is the perfect way to teach numbers to preschoolers and toddlers.