Parents are often concerned whether their children are developing appropriately in various skill sets, math often overlooked. After all, with children just learning what numbers are, who’s worried about whether their math skills are developing properly? Here are a few milestones to look for to reassure yourself that your child is developing normally.

As your child develops through the preschool years, he or she will go through a series of stages related to numbers that you can watch for and encourage.

Early preschoolers should be showing an awareness of numbers and the importance they play in her life. She should express some interest in knowing more about numbers and how they relate to objects in the spaces around her.

As this interest blossoms, your child should be able to count at least five objects around him. This can include counting the number of cars around you at the stoplight, the number of red cars you see on the street, the number of toys on the ground, or the number of items on the table. You can encourage this skill and get the playroom cleaned with less argument by making it a game.

“You pick up five legos and I’ll put them in the box.”

“Can you find ten green blocks on the floor?”

“I need 15 stuffed animals. Can you find them?”

Being able to count five items in the material world is good, but your child should also be able to make the connection between the real and the symbolic. They should be able to see a series of items printed on a page and also count those as she would in her room. You can gently test her math skills by having her count things on a number line from left to right and then from right to left. If you want to get really fancy, see if she can count them backwards. 

Before you get into playing games with simple addition and subtraction, take time to make sure your child is starting to recognize that printed numbers, such as the number 3, correlates to the concept of a certain number of objects – three apples, three tennis balls. They should also be able to count to the number 10 in the correct order and place manipulative numbers 1-5 in the correct order. One more skill to develop before actually getting into math is understanding quantity. Your child should be very clear on what is meant by more as different from less, small from large, and long from short for example.

Now you can start playing addition and subtraction games. “I have four pieces of candy. You have three. How many pieces of candy do we have together?” or “I have four pieces of candy and I’m giving you two pieces. Now how many pieces of candy do I have?” Part of the learning process is being able to see the items and count them each time a question is asked, so don’t make the mistake of thinking of that as cheating. Also try to keep all the sums below ten until your child demonstrates they are ready to tackle a greater challenge.

What early math skills should parents watch for?