Math Mastery Unveiled: Math Milestones by Age
October 03, 2023
We often think of math skills as something that begins developing in preschool and kindergarten, but the truth is that the process starts much sooner.
In this guide, we'll trace math skills from birth through high school, telling you what you can expect at each stage and answering questions like "At what age can a child count to 20?" We'll also explain how you can help the children in your life reach math milestones by age.
Babies (Ages 0–12 Months)
Just as they begin acquiring verbal and social skills, babies begin to learn early math concepts during their first year of life. From age 0 to 12 months, babies typically learn:
Sequencing: Babies can begin to predict a simple series of events. For example, they may anticipate a bath when a parent fills the tub or know it's dinner time when they are put in a highchair.
Cause and effect: As babies play and explore, they learn about basic cause and effect. For example, pushing a button on an electronic toy makes a song play, or shaking a rattle produces a pleasant sound.
Classification: Babies are capable of making simple classifications, such as discerning which toys are soft or which ones make noise.
Size: Infants can begin to make simple size comparisons. For example, they may understand that their parents are big while they are small.
Quantities: By age 1, many babies understand basic quantities like more, bigger and enough.
How You Can Help
Parents and caregivers can support the development of math skills at this stage through sensory experiences like:
Listening to songs that feature counting or quantities
Leading babies in sorting activities with toys and other safe objects
Providing toys in simple shapes
Toddlers (Ages 1–2 Years)
Math learning continues through toddlerhood. So what math readiness skills do two-year-olds have? By this stage, they may learn:
Numbers: At this stage, kids understand that numbers refer to how many and can often recite numbers, though they may skip some. They may also be able to use their fingers to communicate numbers, such as how old they are or how many cookies they want.
Comparisons and measurements: Toddlers typically begin understanding and using words that measure and compare things like faster, slower, under, behind and over. They may also begin experimenting with measurements by filling and emptying containers.
Shapes: During this stage, most children can begin matching basic shapes like putting circles with circles and squares with squares.
Sequencing: Toddlers grow even better at recognizing and anticipating patterns and can begin to notice sequences in things like wallpaper prints and floor tiles.
How You Can Help
Grownups can help toddlers build math skills through fun activities and games like:
Sorting objects by shape and color
Preschoolers (Ages 3–4 Years)
Math skills continue to progress through ages 3 and 4 years. Some common 3-year-old math skills include:
Shape recognition: At this stage, kids can begin identifying shapes in the real world. For example, they can say that a tire is round or a block is a rectangle.
Sorting: Preschoolers become even more skilled sorters and can categorize things by purpose, size, color, shape and more.
Counting: Most preschoolers learn to independently count to 20 and can count the number of items in a group up to 20.
Numbers: At this stage, children begin to understand how numerals refer to number names.
Cause and effect: Preschoolers can become skilled at predicting the effect that something will have. For example, they can describe what will happen if they drop a toy into a bucket full of water.
How You Can Help
Parents and teachers can help preschoolers reach math milestones through hands-on activities like:
Counting ingredients for a recipe
Identifying larger and smaller objects
Calling out the names of shapes around you
Kindergartners (Age 5 Years)
During kindergarten, children build on their preschool math skills and develop abilities that will allow them to begin learning basic arithmetic, such as:
Easy addition: Kindergarteners typically gain the understanding that if they count on their fingers up to five, they can continue up through 10 by using their other hand.
Numbers: By the end of kindergarten, children can typically recognize numerals up to 20 and can say which of a pair of numbers is bigger.
Maps: Kindergarteners can begin following simple maps to find objects.
Time: At this stage, children begin understanding basic time concepts like morning, afternoon and evening and the days of the week.
Sequencing: Kindergarteners can begin following multi-step directions with clues like first, next and last.
Shapes: Children at this stage start being able to draw or copy shapes.
How You Can Help Children learn in different ways, and parents and teachers can support math development in kindergartners by presenting concepts visually.
Numberpals can help you do just that by providing brightly colored plush numbers that can be used for counting, labeling and more.
Kids continue to progress through mathematics skill-building in elementary school when they begin to learn to count to 100 by ones, twos, fives and more and start performing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
By middle school, children typically grasp the concepts of fractions and decimals and can compare things with greater than and less than signs. Basic algebra, fractions, proportions, percentages and basic geometry skills develop during middle school, opening the doors to higher levels of math in high school.
Support Their Math Skills Development
As you can see through this discussion of math milestones by age, math skills begin developing at birth with little ones learning how to classify things, describe quantities and predict sequences.
By the time they're toddlers, many children understand basic numbers and shapes, and by the end of kindergarten, they can often compare numbers and count. All of this provides a sturdy foundation for the arithmetic and higher-level math skills they'll develop at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
It's truly never too early to begin supporting children's math skill development. Through developing engaging activities and fostering a positive learning environment, teachers and parents can help babies and kids develop the fundamental math skills that will shape their future academic success.