Expert Articles

Learning Mathematics with Infants and Toddlers Through Everyday Life and Play – Object Attributes

Author: Ms Ruoyu Wen,
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

The perception and understanding of mathematical concepts in infants and toddlers do not begin solely with counting. In the lives and games of infants and toddlers, there are already many mathematical-related concepts present. Various objects in their environment, different patterns, types of food, and daily routines all contain opportunities for mathematical development. Therefore, the Erickson Institute in the United States has proposed four preliminary mathematical concepts for infants and toddlers aged 0–3: attributes, comparison, change, and pattern. Today, let’s talk about “attributes.”

Preliminary Mathematical Concept: Attributes

“Attributes” refer to the characteristics or qualities of objects that help us describe and classify them. From the moment of birth, infants and toddlers are surrounded by various sensory stimuli, such as light, sound, smell, taste, and texture. These sensory stimuli possess different attributes. For example, light can be “bright,” sound can be “loud,” and smell can be “unpleasant.” Through their senses, infants and toddlers continuously perceive the different attributes of objects. With an understanding of object attributes, they begin to consciously classify objects based on their attributes, such as a red ball, a round cookie, or a toy that makes sounds. The development of language skills also enables them to describe object attributes more precisely. The perception and development of these preliminary mathematical concepts lay a solid foundation for their future learning of more complex mathematical knowledge.

Stages of Infants and Toddlers' Development of the Preliminary Mathematical Concept: Attributes

The development of infants and toddlers’ preliminary mathematics follows a certain process and stages, progressing from initial broad sensory perception without mathematical meaning to increasingly accurate conceptual and language-related mathematical understanding.

  1. Emerging Stage (0–14 months)
    During this stage, infants and toddlers’ understanding of mathematical concepts is still based on sensory perception. They are curious about people and objects around them and gather information about them through their senses. For example, they may show displeasure when they smell an unpleasant odour.
  2. Developing Stage (12–24 months)
    In this stage, infants and toddlers primarily learn about the surrounding world through observation. They actively choose people or objects to explore and demonstrate an “accepting understanding” of object attributes through body language and simple words or phrases. For instance, when parents offer them food they dislike; they may push it away or express their refusal using simple words.
  3. Transition Stage (22–36 months)
    Around the age of 3, infants and toddlers can express their understanding of objects through language. They begin to consciously observe and describe the similarities and differences among objects, as well as search for patterns. For example, they may discover that all the shoes in the shoe cabinet are black and communicate this finding through language to adults.
Strengthening Infants and Toddlers' Perception of "Attributes" in Daily Life and Play

Adults can reinforce infants and toddlers’ understanding of “attributes” in their daily lives and play. For example:

  • Use descriptive adjectives for attributes in everyday conversations: big/small, many/few, how many, long/short, front/back, loud/quiet, rough/smooth, wet/dry, etc.
  • Describe the baby’s state and related object attributes while changing diapers, such as “soft diaper” and “hard changing table.”
  • Ask the child about their feelings regarding food while eating together. Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it crispy?
  • Draw attention to patterns and details on clothes when helping infants and toddlers change clothes.
  • Provide opportunities for children to classify objects in their daily lives: find all the “winter clothes” in the wardrobe, read picture books about “vehicles” together, or gather all the “animal toys.”
  • Encourage children to classify objects and discuss the reasons behind the classification, guessing the “attribute” criteria with adults, such as “Guess why I classified them this way?”


  • Hynes-Berry, M., Chen, J. Q., & Abel, B. (2021). Precursor Math Concepts: The Wonder of Mathematical Worlds with Infants and Toddlers. Teachers College Press.
1,000 FAQ
Learning Mathematics with Infants and Toddlers Through Everyday Life and Play - Object Attributes