It’s easy to turn reading books with toddlers into conversations about the math that is all around us. The idea of more and less comes into all kinds of books and finger plays toddlers love—including counting books. What we need to emphasize as we read and chat about these favorites is all the examples of more and less of something that are at the heart of these books.
For example, there’s More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera Williams, a great book where toddlers are quick to join in on the “more, more, more” refrain used in the rhyming text. They love the colorful illustrations and will be quick to point to or chat about the many kinds of “more” we all want and need — be it more as a growing number of kisses and hugs, more as bigger in size, longer in time, faster in movement, or cozier in terms of texture or in settling down together.
We use our Precursor Concepts of Attribute, Comparison, Pattern, and Change as a framework for discussing math thinking during the ages of 0-3. Caregivers have a special role in mathematizing the Precursor Concepts. Infants and toddlers instinctively notice the math all around, but it is the caregiver who supports their receptive understanding by voicing and showing the words to use.
While reading to babies involves “proto-conversations” (see our list of best books for babies), when children are toddlers they begin to interact with the books more and can start a more robust “conversation” while a book is being read to them. And, this back-and-forth about what you see on the page can definitely become math talk!
Counting books invite more talk about more and less — and exact numbers too. While we shouldn’t expect toddlers to count on their own, there is a great deal of research that shows that the more adults model counting to find out how many, the more children connect number words to what they represent. Cardinality means understanding that the last number counted represents the total amount of the set. Research shows that later mathematical proficiency correlates with how often infants and toddlers hear cardinality expressed (Levine, Wang). For example, you might say to a toddler, “How many toes do you have?” then wiggle each toe and say “1, 2, 3, 4, 5″… or you can take it one step further and do the same thing but say, “You’ve got 5 little toes! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!”
What are the best books for toddlers? Look for books that are sturdy to stand up to lots of use and handling by young ones. Books with flaps, slides, and other interactive elements help create interest. Colorful illustrations that aren’t too busy will invite toddlers to look and see, eventually pointing at things they recognize and can name.
Start the “conversation” about more, less, and the number of things in these best books for toddlers.
More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera Williams
This book found in board, paper, or hardcover is a Caldecott-winning treat for toddlers that takes advantage of something they all love, which is rhyming and song. Young ones Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird are absolutely adored by the adults around them. Multi-ethnic children fill the colorful pages, while toddlers are sure to like all the repetition (Patterns) of things they like so much, such as kisses, giggles, and hugs.
Un Elefante by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein
This bi-lingual board book is colorful and full of appealing illustrations. The text is limited to number symbols/words as well as elephants/elefantes. This helps highlight each additional elephant as shown at the end of a line with others. These kind of small things in books for toddlers make a difference. This book gives many opportunities not just to sing the song but to explore and reinforce vocabulary related to more and less.
10, 9, 8 by Molly Bang
This board or paper book features a young child getting ready for bed. (Author website here) This classic picture book is an example of a shrinking Pattern (less) while using wonderful and relatable Attributes.
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
This popular book features a family shopping and preparing a meal. It comes as a paper or board book, as well as in English or Spanish. The limited text offers many opportunities for children to converse about Attributes, Comparison, Pattern and Change while appreciating the rich illustrations.
Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre
A photo essay from a farmer’s market provides many ways to notice more and less. Are there more yellow potatoes or red ones? How many green tomatoes hanging on the stem? This book is sure to give you lots to talk about with your toddlers. Also see the companion book, Go, Go Grapes!: A Fruit Chant.
Soup Day by Melissa Iwai
This multicultural board book is another great book that involves soup-making. It features food shopping and preparation in a way that is inviting and mathematical for young children. The illustrations draw attention to small quantities (1 to 8) as well as shapes and Attributes. Pizza Day is a fun alternative by the same author.
Best Books for Babies to Find Math in Their World
Books are great for babies too! Find our list of books that are great for the Emerging Stage (0-15 months).