Toddler Activities

Counting, Numeral Matching, and Dump Trucks

IMG_5741.JPGSo, my two-year-old is super into trucks and lately we’ve been doing a lot of counting, so one muggy morning I wanted to combine those two things but didn’t have much in the way of time or supplies. With my son’s help, I made a quick number matching game and a counting game with one of his faves: dump trucks. (Which are super easy to draw, so win-win.) He was able to play with these for quite awhile, then brought them into his indoor sandbox.

All I did to make these was draw a bunch of dump trucks and cut them out, then drew the “boards” on some scrap paper, which literally took under ten minutes. I honestly think cutting things out was the longest part! My son liked them so much that I’d love to re-create them for the felt board, and will post about these games again briefly when that project is done. Because I’m the at-home/working/pregnant mom of a two-year-old that doesn’t like to nap, so obviously I have a ton of time to make felt board games. (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.) Ha, ha.


As simple as these math games are, they do introduce (or reinforce) some basic foundational math ideas. One important aspect of early math concepts is known as one-to-one correspondence. This is when a child can point to objects and count them in order.

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For very early learners, having both the numbers written on the bottom and the pre-drawn boxes can really help with beginning counting, numeral recognition and understanding, and learning that one-to-one correspondence. The boxes help kiddos figure out how many are there while still grasping those counting and recognition skills. Once all the trucks are in place, it’s much easier to point to each one while counting. (This could take many, many tries and this activity is a success if one truck gets in each box the first time!)

The repetition of counting “one,” then “one, two,” then “one, two, three” is also incredibly helpful for toddlers since repetition is often their best way of learning. (Ever wonder why your two-year-old says the same thing a million times, or wants to read the same book over and over and over until you can recite it in your sleep? When you feel like your brain is starting to melt from all this repetition, just remember this is how they are learning….if you can before the brain melting, that is.)

One note on this game, I wrote the numbers on a separate piece of paper not just because of space, but because I wanted to remove them at times. I think it’s great to practice counting both with and without numerals being a part of the visual because sometimes less is more when learning new things! I also wanted to give my kiddo a chance to count all the trucks, since he’s really enjoying counting to ten and is all about including all the trucks all the time.

As they progress through this activity, you can further challenge them by taking away the pre-determined boxes:

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Two other math concepts are numeral recognition and matching. Numeral recognition has two parts, knowing “how many” and also what the actual written numeral represents, i.e. the number one stands for one dump truck. This concept is similar to early literacy in that children start to recognize that the letter A is a symbol for specific sounds that can begin the word “apple” or “alligator.” Generally speaking, early learners are taking in both of these ideas around the same time which can be helpful in the learning process and is sometimes referred to symbolic representation.

(Side note: Although related in their cognitive functions, symbolic representation can be different from Piaget’s theory of symbolic function, which also begins around age two. Symbolic function is best represented in dramatic play, where a child can pretend a box is a fire engine or that they are making tea using an old cup. A two-year-old knows what a fire engine or a cup of tea are, and can use another object to symbolize them. I will write more about this in another post on dramatic play, since it is such an important part of child development…and because I love me some dramatic play time! Tiny tangent over.)

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So, back to matching and numeral recognition. Having a small board like this where the dump trucks can park next to their numbers can help with both of those ideas. Matching the written numerals can create a cognitive connection so the numerals become more recognizable and familiar. Also, I think that taking away the counting aspect can make it easier for some early learners to focus on the actual numerals when just starting out. Again, less can be best when first introducing big ideas.

Whew! So that’s some early math talk. But all these different learning aspects (literacy, art, science, math…) are interconnected and pretty interesting when you start seeing how your kiddos brain works!

Oh, and please see my previous post if you want some simple counting songs. Music is deeply connected to learning and soothes the savage beast…which could be a cranky toddler or the tired parent of said cranky kid.

Hope your day is filled with fun learning love!

Toddler Activities

One and Two: Simple Counting Songs For Learning Early Math

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We’ve been super into counting songs (and dump trucks, obvs) in our house these days! Simple finger-play songs like these help familiarize little ones with numbers and counting, obviously, but also with other early math concepts like addition. Here are two finger-plays that are so easy you can sing them in your sleep, as I do most nap times. Yawn.

Now One More

Sung to the tune of Where Is Thumbkin?

Where is One? Where is One?

Here I am, Here I am (Show one finger)

We’re so glad to see you, so very glad to see you

Now One More, Now One More

Where is Two? Where is Two?

Here I am, Here I am (Show Two Fingers)

We’re so glad to see you, so very glad to see you

Now One More, Now One More

IMG_5745 2.jpgCounting small blocks while singing 

Continue until ten, or twenty, or until you or your kiddo falls asleep, whatever! Sometimes in less sleepy times, I use props (like blocks or finger puppets) instead of my fingers so that we can lay them out and count them after the song ends. Counting  one to ten, then counting down from ten, also adds the idea of subtraction, especially if you remove a prop with each number. For most early learners, addition and subtraction are easier to understand when using concrete objects like blocks or clothespins or spoons, whatever you have around. It can also help reinforce one-to-one correspondence (when your kiddo can point to each object he or she is counting) and the ideas of  quantity (basically understanding which is “more” or “less”).

Side note: More and less also can help with social skills, as sharing and equality come into the mix: “You have four trucks and Jolie has none. You have more. Can you share the trucks?” Not to say this will always work, of course, but it’s worth a try when sharing gets hairy!


Two Little Blackbirds: The Counting Version

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting on a shoe (Use one finger from each hand to represent a blackbird)

One named One and one named Two

Fly away One, fly away Two (fly the blackbirds away one at a time)

Come back One, come back Two (fly the blackbirds back to the middle)

Two Little Blackbirds sitting on the floor (continue finger movement throughout song)

One named Three and one named Four

Fly away Three, fly away Four

Come back Three, come back Four

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting on some sticks

One named Five and one named Six

Fly away Five, fly away Six

Come back Five, come back Six

Two Little BlackBirds, sitting on a gate

One named Seven and one named eight

Fly away Seven, fly away Eight

Come back Seven, come back Eight

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting in a den

One named Nine and One named Ten

Fly away Nine, fly away Ten

Come back Nine, come back Ten

(You can find another version of Two Little Blackbirds in a previous post)


                                                          PS Want more number and math games for early learners?  I’ll post about some quick and easy counting games I made for my two-year-old in literally five minutes with limited supplies (paper, a scissor, and a few markers.) Yup, the dump trucks from the top photo are pieces to the game.