Did you know that even young babies are capable of completing basic addition and subtraction problems? (If you want proof of this, see this article and this PDF.) I am fascinated by all the early math concepts that children can develop through play, as well as the connection between children’s early understanding of math and their later math achievement.
Early math concepts that children pick up through play and the handling of appropriate toys and educational materials include:
- an understanding of size and shape
- the ability to spot patterns and make predictions based on patterns
- ability to count
- number recognition
- ability to compare quantities (e.g., who has more apples?)
- an understanding of one-to-one correspondence (e.g., the ability to match one object to one corresponding number or object)
- spatial sense (a foundation for geometry)
- an understanding of measurement
- ability to make estimates
- problem solving skills
If you are looking for gifts that are both fun and educational, consider all the ways that simple toys can support the development of these early math skills. What an advantage kids will have if they get plenty of opportunity to interact with toys that teach math concepts in their early years! Kids who have these opportunities will enter school ready to learn more advanced math concepts.
Below I have complied a list of 12 of the best gifts for helping kids develop an understanding of early math concepts. On this list are ideas for fun and educational toys that teach math concepts for kids ages 1 to 9.
Note: For more great gift ideas for kids of all ages and interests, see my gift guides page.
The World of Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Stackable Blocks by Kids Preferred: These nesting stacking blocks are great for developing babies’ and toddler’s understanding of size. Plus, one side of these cute blocks features numbers and images which reinforces number recognition and counting skills.
Lauri Tall-Stacker Number Express: This toy builds number recognition, counting skills, an understanding of one-to-one correspondence, and numerical order. Plus, the crepe rubber material used by Lauri is really fun and enticing to play with.
Learning Resources Tangrams Smart Pack: Tangrams are a classic toy for building shape knowledge and spatial awareness. This pack includes four sets of tangrams with seven pieces each (for a total of 28 pieces in the pack). It also includes an activity guide with ideas.
Magna-Tiles® Clear Colors 100 Piece Set: Magna-Tiles are probably my all-time favorite toy. We first purchased these when QBoy was two-year-old, and three years later my kids still play with Magna-Tiles on a regular basis. Magna-Tiles are awesome for teaching shapes and spatial relationships (aka, early geometry). Through playing with Magna-Tiles, kids intuitively learn concepts about angles, combining shapes to make new shapes, and how various 2-D shapes can be used to form 3-D shapes. Magna-Tiles are expensive, but they are have been well worth the investment given how much use my kids have gotten out of them.
MindWare Imaginets: Imaginets are magnetic shapes that come with a magnetic board that doubles as a carrying case. Kids can combine shapes to create pictures using the included picture cards or their imagination. This toy is great for learning shapes, geometry, and developing spatial awareness skills.
Learning Resources Wooden Pattern Blocks (Set of 250): Pattern blocks are not only educational, but they are so much fun as well. I am partial to the wooden pattern blocks rather than the plastic ones. These are well constructed and will provide hours of educational fun. Download free pattern block templates from Learning Resources, PreKinders or Confessions of a Homeschooler to inspire your child’s imagination and get him or her having fun with shapes. Or check out my free “How Many Ways to Make a Shape?” printable for a more advanced learning activity using pattern blocks.
Learning Resources Attribute Blocks Desk Set In Tray: One of the very first learning tools I ever purchased, on the recommendation of QBoy’s early intervention specialist, was a set of attribute blocks. This set includes 60 pieces that differ along four dimensions of shape, color, size, and thickness. These are great for learning shapes, learning colors, and developing sorting skills. (See my post highlighting the use of attribute blocks in a sorting activity.)
Learning Resources Link n Learn Links: These colorful, plastic links are fun and attractive to kids, and can be used to practice math skills including sorting, patterning, and counting. (In this post you can see how we used links like these to practice patterning skills.)
Learning Resources Baby Bear Balance Set: This set is a great first balance scale for kids to learn about mass and weight. It comes with 102 bears in 7 different colors. In addition to using the bears as a unit of mass, kids can also count and sort the bears to build other math skills.
ThinkFun Math Dice Jr.: This is a great game for kids ages 5 and up who know their numbers and can do basic math operations like addition and subtraction. Players roll a 12 sided dice to obtain a target number. They then roll five regular dice to obtain the numbers they can use to build a problem that equals the target number. For example, if a player rolls the number 8 on the target dice and rolls a 6, 4, 3, 5, and 1 on the scoring dice, the player could use 6+3-1 or 5+3 or 6+4-3+1 to obtain an 8. The game comes with a small bag to store all the pieces and is a fun way to get your kids practicing their mental math.
Learning Resources Sum Swamp Game: This is a fun game for 2-4 players ages 5 and up who are learning to add and subtract. The goal is to get through the “swamp,” and to do so kids must add and subtract their way around the playing board. Special odd and even spaces add an extra element of excitement to the game while developing children’s understanding of odd and even numbers. This game is a winner of the Oppenheim Best Toy award.
Looking for more great gift ideas? Check out my other gift guides:
- Best gifts for kids who love science
- Best gifts for kids who love to build
- Best gifts for developing kids’ fine motor skills
- Best gifts for active kids
- Best gifts for kids who love arts & crafts
- Best gifts for encouraging sensory play
- Best gifts for teaching letters
- Best gifts for teaching shapes
- Best gifts for kids who love LEGO