[Moore, T. 2001. Counting Ways to Having Fun. In Children and Families, 15 (Winter): 22, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

Before they can add and subtract, young children need to develop early math skills. These skills fall into four categories:

1.Classification is grouping objects that have common characteristics.

2.One-to-one correspondence involves matching objects because they belong together. An example: at the snack table, there is a plate for each child.

3.Seriation means ordering objects by size, color, sound, texture, or some other way. Any child who begs to be first in line is aware of order.

4.Counting is naming numbers in sequence.

Though it may seem intimidating to teach these concepts, don’t worry. There are plenty of lively ways to mix math into the day, because children naturally like to sort and order objects. Here are ideas to get you started.


  • Use songs. Here’s one: “One little, two little, three little children; four little, five little, six little children; seven little, eight little, nine little children; ten little children singing!”
  • Ask each child to bring a photo of his or her family. Make a chart. Which children have two people in their family? Three? Four? More?
  • Bring in magazines with photos of babies. Ask the children to cut out pictures all the babies they can find. Afterwards, encourage counting and pasting the cut pictures.
  • Do silly counting. Ask the children to see how fast they can count. Or how slow!
  • Many storybooks teach counting. Be theatrical and read a rousing rendition of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”


  • Play games during circle time. Pin different colors on each child, then ask all the blues to go to one corner, all the reds in another, and so on.
  • Try new words to old songs. How about: “If you’re happy and you know it, point to a boy”? Next, say “a girl” or “a teacher.”

One-to-one correspondence

  • If local regulations permit, cook a simple recipe in class. Talk about how one cup of peanut butter goes into one bowl. Invite a cook to visit and describe how he uses math in his work.
  • During art, ask the children to blend equal portions of blue and yellow to get green. Try with other colors.
  • Demonstrate one-to-one correspondence through birthdays. Each child has a date – a number – that is special to him or her. Post birthdays on a wall. (Be sensitive to families that may not celebrate birthdays.)


  • Give each child three bags of different sizes to decorate. Encourage conversation about bigness and smallness.
  • Use physical activity. Have the children form a horizontal line. Ask them to take five steps, then four steps, then two steps. Another activity would be to hop, roll or stretch. See who moves the farthest.
  •  Tape long sheets of paper to the walls. Measure each child and write his or her name next to the mark. See who is biggest, who is smallest, who is in-between.
  • Invite each child to bring in a doll, ball, or another toy (marked with his or her name). Order the toys by size.
  • Create a series of boxes with holes in the sides. Hide objects of different textures in the boxes. Some possibilities include a feather, a small pillow, grapes, cooked noodles, a rock, and sandpaper. Ask children to feel what’s inside. Talk about how you can group objects by how they feel.
  • For a sing-a-long, encourage the children to sing with tiny voices, then loud ones.

Several concepts at once

  • Let each child guess her weight. Write down her guess on a chart. Then weigh the children and see how close they were to their guesses. Like scientists, they will enjoy the thrill of discovery. (Use caution when introducing this activity to overweight children.)
  • Collect autumn leaves. On your walk, talk about how many yellow or red leaves each child has gathered, how many big or small ones. Back at the center, children can group their collection by color or size before using the leaves for art projects.

With these ideas, young children truly enjoy math. So do their teachers.

© Thomas Moore, 2001 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.