You are your child’s first teacher, but you don’t have to be Albert Einstein or Pablo Picasso to teach her math and art. Toddlers naturally find wonder and joy in the world around them. Under your guidance, your child will discover concepts, explore patterns, develop number sense and solve simple problems. Choose age-appropriate activities, use hands-on materials and put the emphasis on fun.
Focus math activities on broad mathematical concepts rather than specific numbers and skills, advises Dr. Katherine Glenn-Applegate, assistant professor of education at Ohio Wesleyan University. For example, if you have two blocks and your child has 20 blocks, say, “Wow, you have a lot of blocks! Do you think you have more blocks or fewer blocks than I do?” This encourages comparative thinking -- “I have more than Dad” -- which is a beneficial precursor to more complex comparisons and future understanding of number operations such as addition and subtraction.
At this young age, many healthy children will smile and enjoy your company and conversation, but will not answer your questions. That's OK. You don't need to force your child to respond because that will only serve to frustrate him and you and it makes block play less fun. Instead, model a response for the child. “You have more blocks than I do. I have one, two blocks, and you have lots of blocks. Look at all those blocks you have!”
Unit blocks are effective math manipulatives, says Glenn-Applegate. The key attribute of unit blocks is they all have a clear relationship to each other. For example, two square blocks are the same size as one rectangle block. Two rectangle blocks end-to-end equal one long rectangle; two right triangle blocks equal one square block. With normal use, children discover these relationships. Perhaps when she runs out of rectangle blocks to make her road, your child will find that two square blocks also work. Using the language you naturally associate with unit blocks -- square, triangle, taller, long -- encourages math language. Additionally, it develops spatial skill, which is the ability to see shapes and forms in relation to each other and from different perspectives.
Toddlers aren’t particularly interested in their final art products; they simply enjoy the process of creation. Provide sensory experiences using a range of materials: chunky crayons and markers, finger paints and Play-Doh. Textures and bright colors attract toddlers. They also enjoy experimenting with the sense of taste, so ensure that art materials are nontoxic and free of choking hazards. Allow your child to take risks. If she is hesitant, model a process, such as splashing blue water color on a large sheet of white paper. She will mimic you and gain the confidence to paint a creation of her own. As your child begins to identify patterns in the world around her, she will start to create her own patterns.