As your kids dive into the world numbers and counting this week, you may wonder if their understanding of essential math skills matches up with established ages and stages milestones. To help you along, we’ve researched a few of the most common development milestones associated with numbers skills that you can use to make sure your kids are on track. When we asked early childhood educator Debbie Kruse about the importance of early math learning, they were enthusiastic about how numbers can shape the future of your little learners.   

“From science and technology to engineering and coding, numbers form the basis of nearly all STEM skills,” Kruse said. “In addition to helping kids understand how the world around them works, math skills also position them well for the groundbreaking careers of tomorrow.” 

The Building Blocks for 18-month-olds:

By the time they reach their 18-month check-up, your little ones should be building rudimentary understanding of numbers and their place in the world. 

  • 18-month-olds should show an understanding of bigger and smaller when presented with two sets of toys or treats, for instance, or demonstrating the beginnings of pattern recognition.  
  • They’ll also start recognizing numbers; at this age, you’ll likely see your kids notice the difference between one and two, but struggle when presented with higher numbers. 

The Building Blocks for 2-year-olds: 

As they progress towards their second birthdays, your kids will also demonstrate a gradual growth of their math and number skills. In just six months, you’ll start to see increased sophistication in your child’s grasp of numbers.  

  • Learning to count to three and use number words with increasing accuracy (though they may still skip around when counting).  
  • Your kids will also start to apply their burgeoning knowledge of numbers to other skills, such as completing matching shapes puzzles that ask them to differentiate between triangles, circles, and squares.  

The Building Blocks for 3-year-olds: 

The growth continues quickly with your curious three-year-olds, who will start to grasp the beginnings of number relationships.  

  • In addition to hitting milestones like reciting number words to 10, your three-year-old will also be able to solve the simplest addition and subtraction problems (like 1+1 or 2-1) with the help of visual aids like manipulatives or counters.  
  • Your three-year-old will also begin applying this early understanding of numbers to real-world situations; you’ll see them start to grasp the concept of “first” and “last,” as well as notice and call out different shapes that they see at home or in the world.  

The Building Blocks for 4-year-olds:

As your kids enter preschool, their grasp of number skills will likely show another leap forward.  

  • During this year, your kids will learn more simple addition and subtraction problems (like 2+2 or 4-3) with the help of a visual aid and be able to recognize and name one-digit numbers when they see them.  
  • When it comes to counting, your kids may show staggered progress, but should be able to count to between 15 and 30 by the time kindergarten rolls around.  
  • Their real-world skills will also broaden; at this age, your kids should be able to divide toys or treats evenly between two people (perhaps using the “one for me, one for you” method) and start to measure things by comparison (for instance: “this sunflower is as tall as me!”) 

The Building Blocks for 5-year-olds:

As your kids get their first taste of academic math skills in kindergarten, their own understanding of numbers will undergo its most exciting change yet.  

  • During this pivotal year, your kids will pick up a bevy of new skills, from understanding ordinal terms (“first,” “second,” “third,” etc.) to writing one-digit numbers to completing early addition and subtraction word problems with solutions up to 10 using visual aids.  
  • Their counting skills will expand in both directions; in addition to learning to count backwards from 10, your kids will also learn skip-counting skills to help them count forward by 2s, 5s, and 10s.