2 year old son loves numbers - how can I nurture his talent?
September 6, 2014 4:13 PM   Subscribe

My 2 year old son loves numbers. He can count by himself well into the 50s and can tell you what number he's looking at to at least as high as 110. As for me, well, numbers and I have never been the best of friends. How can I, a numbers-adverse dad, encourage and nurture his talent?

My son is only 2 years old (he turns 3 in November) and loves numbers a lot. He can count unassisted into the 50 (he could probably go higher but I think he gets distracted). On top of that, you can show him a number as high as at least 110 and he'll tell you what number that is.

Lately he's been taking wooden numbers from a puzzle he has and been combining individual numbers to make other numbers (for example, adding a 6 and an 8 and saying 68, or a 10 and a 3 and saying "one hundred three"). I'm super-impressed.

I'm going to avoid the proud dad cliche by stopping short of saying he's gifted, but I do think he has a talent for numbers that I think should be nurtured.

I'm not great with numbers, though. I can do enough math to get by in daily life, but I've always been more of a "words" guy. Any suggestions you might have for me to help me nurture his talent and love of numbers?
posted by Effigy2000 to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to sound nuts, but I'd do a two pronged approach. Get him into a Chinese language course, have him learn abacus and see if he can learn math in Chinese. The reason is, counting in Chinese is one syllable and the way numbers are named is mathematical in nature.

This is why math seems to be strong with asian countries, the counting system is well suited to mathematics.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:36 PM on September 6, 2014

You could tell him about multiplication, and arrange blocks or whatever in a grid (e.g. 24 blocks in 6 rows and 4 columns). The math you know can probably keep him entertained with new puzzles until he learns to read. Read with him to speed up the learning-to-read process.

Once he does learn to read, there are plenty of puzzle/brain-teaser books for all ages, as well as actual math textbooks. Don't shy away from getting him actual math textbooks. These have a bad reputation because people had to study in school, but the ideas are really interesting if you're so inclined, and actual textbooks are an efficient way to learn a lot. Maybe take him to a library and see what he likes.

When he's a bit older, get him a copy of Godel, Escher, Bach, and check out Math Olympiad competitions.

Also get him enrolled in whatever "gifted" classes/programs are available. "Giftedness" is often indistinguishable from "hours spent studying" until college if not later, so if he does math for fun (and/or just reads a lot) he will be "gifted". Good job supporting this as a parent!

Chinese or another language wouldn't hurt but the difference is the words for the numbers, not the actual math. Music (piano lessons) might help too. The full-on tiger-parent route isn't a bad way to be raised but to answer your question just use your own math knowledge to give him little math problems appropriate for his knowledge (e.g. how many pizza slices are there? you can have half the slices. how many is that?) until he learns to read.
posted by sninctown at 4:52 PM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would check out Montessori math materials. Besides "Montessori math materials", some useful keywords are "stamp game" (for math problems) and "bank game" (for place value).
You could also add "spindle box" (for matching quantity (concrete) to number symbol (abstract)) and "hundred board" (counting past 50, seeing the pattern of numbers). "Primary" and "homeschool" might also help narrow down your search.
posted by booksherpa at 4:54 PM on September 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mostly at this point I'd make sure it stays fun. Math manipulatives like these or anything from Montessori are pretty great. If you know anyone with a child around kindergarten age, you might ask what kinds of things they're using in class, as it sounds like he's somewhere around there based on the kids I know.

Count funny things like the number of tomatoes in the garden or the number of cars you see on the way to school. Practice estimation; most kids seem to have a hard time with having a sense of gradations of large and small numbers. (Thus, grandma is either 7 or 1000 years old.)

See how interested he is in geometry. Shapes and numbers of sides and things might be fun for him.

Give him a dollar every week, or the change from your pocket every night, and save up for a little fun toy. Draw a graph to show how far into his goal he is.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:01 PM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a numbers guys and when I was a kid in the 70s I played the hell out of my Multiplication Rock LP. Luckily, your son has Multiplication Rock on YouTube.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Kate Nonesuch's e-book Family Math Fun is a great resource for stuff like this! It's free to download. I've used it with my niece and nephew and it works well. There's lots of stuff for when he gets older, too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:47 PM on September 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Try to find math related games to play with him. We had x from outer space Which helps teach the multiplication tables when I was in elementary school. The linked original copy is absurdly expensive - but I Am sure there are more current board games with a math basis.

Also - we had a color game that taught addition ( kind of paint by number boards that you had to roll and add/subtract to find the right amount of pieces you needed to " color" a section of your board.) I can't find a link to it now - but I know there are games that accomplish this. My sister has our childhood copy and her 3 year old LOVES to play it.

So board games that require math basics to play !
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 5:48 PM on September 6, 2014

Oooh, I have one of those kids! Mine is 11 now, and was the subject of this question. When he was close to your kid's age he loved Numbers on the Run for the Leapster with an unholy intensity. Amazon helpfully informs me that I purchased it right before his 3rd birthday.

So, the good news is, you are going to get better at math. You are going to grow along with your kid. He will drag you along and it is a really good ride.

We did a lot of math in everyday things -- like we had a tile kitchen floor and it didn't take long before he had the concept of square numbers down because 2x2 tiles made a.... SQUARE! This was closer to age 5 or 6 though. At 2 or 3 we started addition, but it is crucial not to go to fast. Your son is way ahead of the average kid already - counting to 50 is a prerequisite for "passing" kindergarten in a lot of places - so there is no need to push. You can hold up one finger on one hand and one on another and say "One plus one equals..." (bring the fingers together) "How many?" Be prepared to do this many times. Only do it if it is fun.

When my son was 3 if we were on a long car ride and he desperately needed to go to the bathroom, we could keep him distracted by firing math problems at him while we drove around in search of a rest stop -- "1+1? 2+3? 3+2? Wait, is 3+2 REALLY the same as 2+3? REALLY? WOW!"

Your son sounds like he's about at a kindergarten level so check out the "Getting Ready for Kindergarten" type wipe-off books for ideas. Unfortunately, unless his manual dexterity is as advanced as his math ability, stuff like writing numbers and working the controls on the leapster will be frustrating, so watch out for that.

Also, Hundreds Charts! Just looking at these is cool. What number is under 12? Why, it's 22! And what number is under that? 32! Is there a pattern here? Don't go too fast and act completely astonished when your kid sees the pattern and shows it to you.

Another thing my kids did in kindergarten is collect 100 items in a plastic bag for "Day 100" of school, which is practically a holiday in our school district. Collecting 100 pennies or whatever is actually incredibly educational. Sorting them into 10 bags of 10 is surprisingly illuminating.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:06 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Micropanda is 3 and on this trajectory.

Something you can do now is have him read numbers off road signs, then tell him what the numbers mean. That number tells us how fast we can drive. That one is the name of the road. Let him read his weight in the scale. Start teaching him to read a clock.

Next step is teach him to add and subtract. Might take awhile till he gets it, but that's ok. Mealtime is a good time - my son loves doing things like subtracting berries off his plate (into his mouth)... Once he can add on his fingers, fire math problems at him during regular conversation. If he fires them back, answer. Ask themed series: what's 1+4? 2+3? 3+2? 4+1? 5+0? THEY'RE ALL 5??? WOW! You can also talk about dividing (we usually do this in the guise of sharing a plate of cookies). Introduce fractions by asking how to share a pie and being baffled because there's only 1. But that's ok, nobody could eat a whole pie anyway! Fractions for the win!

Micropanda has a burgeoning interest in science, so I am also starting to teach him how numbers and science relate. His favorite activity at his new Montessori school is sink and float, so I'm starting to teach him about density. Did you know we can take this toy, and measure two numbers, and know whether it will sink or float before we put it in the water?

Do everything you can to teach him what numbers mean. This will serve him well. And be amazed right alongside him when he discovers something. The world is cool, if you take a moment to think about it.

P.S. I highly recommend They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science CD. It's really engaging for a smart 2-3 year old, and should stay interesting for a while. Get the audio video version.
posted by telepanda at 6:26 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

This was (still is) my kid. Here's what he loved most at that age: YouTube videos showing counting (especially this one from sesame street and these series in French - he learned to count to 100 in French before he was two but forgot it all by the time he was 4 - but it was fun while it lasted :) - do a youtube search for "count 100" and any language and you will find animated videos that do just that - if your son is like mine he will just love watching the numbers go by.

Seconding Multiplication Rock and TMBG's Here Come the 123's - both of which he still adores (he's almost 6 now).

We also got about a million number magnets for his easel and our kitchen door, and foam ones he played with in the bath. Super cheap but still hold his interest. He also loved Number Zingo and now that he can do basic math, loves Number Quest.

The last thing I 100% recommend are the MathStart books (especially level 2 and up), and for down the road Bedtime Math and The Boy Who Loved Math - they're engaging and math-based in ways that don't feel like teaching. There are also tons of great tablet apps for teaching both math and numbers - memail me if you want a list of what we've liked.
posted by Mchelly at 7:41 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh - also he loves these videos (also on YouTube under "Have Fun Teaching") and pretty much knows all his times tables because of them [warning: annoying]
posted by Mchelly at 7:46 PM on September 6, 2014

Ok, your son is *way* to young for what I'm going to mention ... but at some point, it might become something useful to tell him. (background: according to many people I have talked to, algebra is seen as something super complicated and difficult to grasp.)

My daughter was no way as precocious with math as your son is - no comparison. However, you might be interested to know that she understood what algebra was about when she was in grade one and was learning simple addition and subtractions. What I told her was that algebra was Hallowe'en for numbers: they got to disguised themselves as letters. And the fun part is to figure out what number is hidden under which disguise.

So, perhaps, once your son knows how to add and subtract numbers, you can introduce him to simple algebraic problems.
posted by aroberge at 7:57 PM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Omg my favorite game to play with math inclined kids is "How Many Ways". You pick a number, write it in the center of a piece of paper, and draw a circle around it. Then you ask the kid, "How many ways can you make this number?" And kid proceeds to write out all the different addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc combos he or she can think of to get to said number. It's a great way to get kids to think flexibly about numbers and math.

With your son, I'd start talking to him about addition and subtraction, and model it with manipulatives like blocks, toys, or pieces of cereal. (Eating as a way to model subtraction is hilarious to kids. Don't ask me why.) Eventually you can work up to "How Many Ways", and then blow his mind and throw in some different contexts for math too, like telling time, using money, etc.

Math is so awesome.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:59 PM on September 6, 2014

Oh and if you have an iPad, DragonBox teaches kids algebra. He might love that if you used it with him.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:02 PM on September 6, 2014

You Can Count on Monsters is super-awesome and fun for teaching about primes (though a little old for him right now). The illustrations are lovely, though!

Other great math books include Really Big Numbers, How Much is a Million?, and G is for Googol.

Math is pretty much the best.
posted by superlibby at 8:02 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Games? Quoted without permission from a friend's recent email
It started when we played board games when he was very young, so he went into kindergarten being very quick to add a 2D6 roll and also counting up points at the end of a game. In fact, when he was in kindergarten we made a chart showing the probabilities of rolling every value, for the purpose of picking places to build in Settlers of Catan. I'm not sure how much he really "got" at that time though.
posted by spbmp at 9:32 PM on September 6, 2014

I was this kid. Maybe? I was also really a words kid -- my mom was super impressed when I learned "one", "two", "three" and "one hundred", and put it together to "two hundred" and "three hundred" all on my own. [I was pretty nonplussed -- what else would it be?] Yes, mom saw her little computational linguist, working the parallel corpora...

I had a little calculator with soft turquoise, pink-red, and bright orange buttons. I loved pressing 2 2 * = = = ...and watching the exponential growth until the calculator ran out of digits, and then I did this with threes.

Kids in Asian countries are good at math because parents believe that math is supposed to be hard and take work and practice. If average USA parents put as much time and belief into their kids' numeracy as we did for kids sports, we'd be Finland for god's sake.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:48 AM on September 7, 2014

They Might Be Giants' Here Come the 1-2-3's. Also, teach him to count in binary on his fingers.
posted by rikschell at 6:36 AM on September 7, 2014

Check out the book Math from Three to Seven. The general philosophy is to set up puzzles and let kids play with them without insisting on a "right" answer. There's lots of discussion of what the author tried, what went of the rails, and how kids figure out what numbers mean (if I build a tower out of matches, is it still the same number of matches? What if I can't see the match at the back?)
posted by yarntheory at 7:34 AM on September 7, 2014

Seconding Superlibby's book suggestions which my toddler math fan enjoyed too. Plus Anno's Counting Book, and Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar, the second being more advanced than the first, but both will tickle the young mathematical mind. How Big Is A Million is cute and I thought it illustrated big numbers better than A Million Dots. But you should totally check that one out too, because it's mind-blowing. We also really enjoyed Kellog's Millions to Measure, although that's not about numbers - he's just really good at making beautiful, fun picture books about maths.

It sounds like you could already start doing easy maths with him. Maybe from workbooks? I don't know what's available in your country. If he's not writing yet, he might actually be able to pick up writing numbers easily and then move on to doing simple sums. (My kid's love of numbers and letters meant that he taught himself to write at 2 years old and this brought him such huge pleasure.)

Other stuff that worked:
Learning about other number systems, like binary, hexadecimal, Mayan.
Spotting numbers everywhere - gave him an old digital camera and he enjoyed taking photos of them.
Dice games - lots of adding.
Cooking - he was in charge of adjusting recipes and counting cups. Still is at ten - I'm rubbish at maths!
Number lines and puzzles
Colouring in - but with a twist. Odd numbers in red, evens in blue, primes in green etc.
posted by pootler at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2014

Oh and also, Mathisfun.com. He's probably too young for it now, but soon. And oh boy, did my kid LOVE this children's maths website.
posted by pootler at 12:49 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get the kid playing with Blender. 3D modeling is all about math.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:03 PM on September 7, 2014

If you happen to have a Mac, there's a piece of software that lets you emulate Apple II, iic and IIe games. I'm thinking of all the old Apple games we played in school. I'm blanking on the publisher. Maybe Broderbund? The ones with the little space ships where you had to shoot down the answer to the math problem.

And then there were the Sticky Bear games.

Probably not currently, but in the near future. Plus, retro graphics.
posted by kathrynm at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2014

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