Effective Practice Guides

Emergent Mathematical Thinking: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-C 8. Child develops sense of number and quantity.
  • IT-C 9. Child uses spatial awareness to understand objects and their movement in space.
  • IT-C 10. Child uses matching and sorting of objects or people to understand similar and different characteristics.

Teaching Practices


Incorporate numbers and quantity during routines, play, and other parts of the day.
Selena, 34 months, is very interested in the plants and animals that live in the desert that surrounds the reservation. At her teacher’s suggestion, her mother, Ms. Torrance, borrowed the Desert Discovery Kit from the family library at the center. The kit includes the book, Way Out in the Desert, photos of the desert near the center, and a collection of desert animals. After reading together, mother and daughter examine the animals. Ms. Torrance says, “I wonder how many snakes are here.” Selena says, “Okay, you count with me. One, two, three, four ...”

Introduce vocabulary used to describe spatial concepts during routines, play, and other parts of the day.
Ms. Ramos and baby Fiona are attending a group socialization session. Ms. Ramos finishes changing Fiona’s diaper and is putting clean clothes on the seated 12-month-old. She thinks about the list of spatial words she and Mrs. Fuentes, her home visitor, created together and how she could emphasize them throughout the day. Ms. Ramos says, “Fiona, lift your arm up high. Now put it down and lift your other arm up high. Now lean forward so I can slip this shirt over your head. Wonderful! Sit back and next we’ll do your pants.”


Provide a variety of safe, loose parts children can explore, move in and out of containers, and count.
In the infant and toddler room, everyone uses the colorful plastic links. The babies hold and shake them and the toddlers use them to fill containers and dump them out. The teachers attach toys to the links and then to the buggy used for walks in the neighborhood. Today, Umberto, 24 months, has made a chain. Ms. Frank asks, “Umberto, how many links are in your chain? Let’s count them together.” Umberto starts, “Uno, dos, tres, diez …”

Offer commercial toys and natural items with different characteristics to encourage sorting and matching activities.
Eduardo’s papi works in a store that sells carpet tiles. The customer samples are just the right size for the hands of mobile infants and toddlers. When new styles come out, papi brings the discontinued samples to the program. The children use them to sort and match. Eduardo, 28 months, says, “Stripes. No stripes.” He points to one pile then the other saying, “Rayos. Sin rayos.”


Encourage a child to learn about his body in space.
Mateo, 11 months, tries to fit inside a cardboard box brought in by one of the parents. He gets one leg in, but the other one won’t fit. He falls back on his bottom with a puzzled look on his face. His family child care provider, Ms. Rich says, “Mateo, I think you need a bigger container.” She points to a rectangular laundry basket, saying, “Let’s see if you can fit in this basket.” Mateo gets himself untangled from the box and crawls to the basket.

Have one-on-one conversations about similarities and differences.
“Good morning, Gemma; good morning, Ms. Acosta,” says Ms., Diaz, welcoming Gemma, 27 months, and her mother to the group socialization session. “Gemma, today you have on a blue hat. Your mami’s hat is red.” Taking Ms. Diaz’s cue, Ms. Acosta says, “Sí, mija.” She adds, “Your hat has flaps that go over your ears. My hat just pulls down over my ears. We both have hats, but they are different.”

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018