10 Tips for Reading Math Picture Books with Young Children

Reading with your young child can be a fun way to build literacy and math skills. Here are some ideas to introduce your child to foundational math thinking.

Reading with your young child can be a fun way to build literacy and math skills. Math picture books can introduce your child to number, shape, space, pattern, measurement, and other foundational math thinking.  The following tips can help you make the most out of math picture book reading. Try some tips you feel comfortable with and see how your child reacts (and how you do, too!). 

1) Choose a good math picture book to read with your child. 

When you choose a math picture book, look for vivid illustrations, an intriguing, interesting story, colorful characters, rich language, and situations that stimulate thinking. In short, if you enjoy the book, your child will, too.

2) Have your child sit on your lap, or close to you, while reading. 

Let your reading be an opportunity to bond with your child and foster a love for reading and math. Don’t turn reading into an unwanted lesson. 

3) Point out words and pictures that depict math concepts. 

Expand your child’s math vocabulary by pointing out and talking about how numbers are shown and written in the book. “Look, there are two bears.  That number says two.”  You may also want to encourage your child to see different shapes and patterns in the book. “What’s that shape?” “Look, here’s a red bear and then a blue bear. What comes next?”

4) Ask questions that don’t have a single correct answer. 

Ask your child, “Can you tell me what you see on this page?” or “Tell me what’s happening over here.” “How do you know that there are four oranges?

5) Ask questions that go beyond the page. 

Challenge your child to think abstractly. Ask questions that relate words or pictures to your child’s life, or encourage your child to make predictions. For example, when reading a counting book, ask your child, “What number do you think comes next?” and “Can you find two things in your room?”

6) Encourage your child to explain. 

Ask your child to explain a comment or answer: “How did you know?” or “How did you figure that out?”

7) Follow your child’s interest. 

Be sensitive and responsive to what your child notices in the storybook. Spend extra time on the parts of the book your child enjoys. “Yes, there are three little pigs.  Do you want to count them again?”

8) Read with flair. 

Be dramatic as you read.  Use distinctive voices for different characters. Dramatize different emotions such as fear, satisfaction, incredulity, silliness, and more. Your child will enjoy your theatrical efforts as the picture book comes to life!

9) Re-read the book. 

The first time you read a book, you want to make sure that the child understands the overall story. After that, re-reading books can help you and your child focus more deeply on math concepts. “Yes, the triangle has three sides, but what else do you see?” Repeated readings can strengthen what your child has previously learned and stimulate the exploration of new ideas.

10) Enjoy the stories and have fun.  

An important goal of storybook reading is for children to enjoy the shared experience of reading a book. Try not to become so focused on teaching math that you forget to enjoy reading with your child. Reading should be an enjoyable experience and intellectual adventure for both of you! 

DREME’s Family Math project studies the use of books, games, and activities to maximize high-quality math interactions with preschool children.

About the Authors

Victoria (Mia) Almeda is a DREME affiliate.

Herbert Ginsburg is the Jacob H. Schiff Foundation Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.