Math Games for 3 Year Olds

Even though a 3-year-old isn't ready to add two-digit numbers, solve algebra equations or count up to 100, an early start to math builds a foundation for later skills. Young children often learn basic mathematics concepts through everyday activities, according to the national early education organization Zero to Three. Use what your child sees and does in her daily routine to turn math learning into engaging games that educate and entertain.

1 Complete the Pattern Matching Game

The typical 3-year-old is beginning to recognize and identify simple repeating patterns, according to the PBS Parents' website. You can create your own pattern play game using everyday items and toys. Take a look at what your 3-year-old enjoys playing with. For example, if he has a major interest in trucks, gather together two groups of vehicles. Choose two different colors or separate the groups by size. Start the pattern for the child, alternating the toys. Ask him to help you complete the pattern. Every time that he adds an item in the correct pattern order, clap. If he gets one wrong, make a playful buzzer noise with your voice. This will help him to think about the pattern and make changes as needed.

2 Move to the Shapes

Preschool aged children have an attention span of roughly 15 minutes, according to the Children's Hospital of Richmond. Instead of expecting your 3-year-old to sit and learn geometry, get her up and moving. Make paper shape mats that your child can jump and move on, suggests Zero to Three. If you're worried that your child may slip on the mats, go outside and draw the shapes onto the ground with sidewalk chalk. Don't overwhelm the child with too many shapes at once. Start with simple forms such as a circle, triangle, square and rectangle. Call out a movement and the name of the shape. For example, "Run onto the circle." Get creative and ask your child to move like an animal or pretend that she is wading through jelly to get to the shape. This game helps your preschooler to learn basic shapes while keeping her active.

3 Collect and Compare Quantities

Young children have a natural ability to compare quantities, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Use your 3-year-old's eagerness to create order in his world with a comparison game. Place a dozen or more soft balls or stuffed animals in a defined area. Say, "Ready, set, go" and run into the space to collect the objects on the floor. You can compete against your 3-year-old or you can play this game with other like-aged children. Give your child a bag or basket to store the items in. When the floor is clear, invite your preschooler to spill his collection into a pile. You, or the other children who are playing, can also do this. Ask your child who has more, which pile is bigger and which one is the smallest. Doing so helps him to identify quantities and helps him to estimate basic measurements.

4 Spy Numbers in the Environment

An "I Spy" game can help your 3-year-old to recognize numbers around her. Between 3- and 4-years of age, children develop the ability to identify the numbers zero through nine in writing, according to PBS Parents. When you're out for a walk around town or at the park, look for numbers in the environment. Start the game by saying, "I spy with my little eye." Next, say a number between zero and nine that you can clearly see. Make sure that the number isn't above the child's eye level. Your child must look for the number, find it and say the word for the numeral.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.