How I Taught My Toddler to Read Numbers in Five Days

By the time the Dumpling turned two, she could count to 16 by rote (although she sometimes skips a number or two after 10), but could not read nor truly grasp what a count meant. While the latter is still an advanced concept for her to understand, teaching numbers recognition had been on peripheral vision since she was 18 months old. As a starting point, I did what most childhood experts recommended—we read numbers and counting books together. Progress, however, was painfully slow. After weeks, then eventually months, of not moving forward beyond “1”, “2” and “3”, I decided to toss her books aside and seek an alternative method.

After scouring the internet, I came across a mommy blogger who shared a simple approach that worked for her child. I can no longer find the original post, but I followed her methodology most of the way through with a few minor tweaks. By playing a game with the Dumpling for a few minutes at the start of each morning, I taught her how to visually identify the first 10 digits in just five days.

I first printed out a set of flashcards with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in big, legible font. Just to be clear, I’m talking about numerals, not the numbers spelled out. Mine were in color with cute animal pictures because they were repurposed from another activity, but even handwritten flashcards would work for this lesson.

I taped the cards up all over our apartment in visible and highly frequented places, such as the refrigerator or front door. (Tip: I hung them high enough so that they were just out of reach from her curiously mischievous hands.) The original mommy blogger emphasized the importance of sequence—”1″ had to be the first thing her child saw, followed by “2”, then “3”, etc. as they move through their morning routine because order was how they made sense of her surroundings. I, however, didn’t worry too much about the arrangement as long as the numbers were not entirely out of place. For example, I taped “1”and “2” in the same room but made sure “1” and “10” were not within sight of each other.

On the first morning, I showed the Dumpling where all the flashcards were in sequential order. As we passed by each one, I said the number aloud, then immediately asked her to find it. When she pointed at the same flashcard, I clapped and cheered.

After we did a round of all 10, I told her that we were playing a game—a scavenger hunt! It was essentially the same exercise without me giving her the answer beforehand.

“Can you help mommy find “1”? I asked.

The Dumpling responded by pointing to any random flashcard.

“That’s a “5”. We are looking for “1”.

I would keep correcting her until she found “1” through the process of elimination. Even though it was pure guess work and luck at the beginning, I made a big deal, jumped up and down, clapped, and danced whenever she got something right.

We repeated these steps until we got to “10”.

Throughout the day, I would also casually point to a flashcard whenever we passed by one so the Dumpling began associating a number with a certain place in the apartment. For example, “4” was taped on the refrigerator so she knew that was where her milk was.

For the next couple of days, we would spend a few minutes every morning doing the scavenger hunt. She had the “route” memorized by the fourth day, so I decided to “trick” her by playing the game entirely out of numerical order on the fifth day…and she correctly found every one! We made a big deal with a celebratory dance.

To make sure this wasn’t a fluke, we played the game again. To be triple sure, I wrote the numbers 1 through 10 on her magnetic doodle and asked her to point to the number that I was asking for. Again, she got every single one. Yay! Another dance!

At this point, I was confident the Dumpling had it down but we further reinforced her newfound knowledge in the real world by reading anything that had numbers, such as front doors, bus signs, ads, posters, etc.

Even though we still need to work on everything that comes after 10, the scavenger hunt was a huge breakthrough in developing the Dumpling’s interest in numbers. My mommy sense tells me that this method can be applied elsewhere… seems like learning the alphabet is on the horizon!

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