My colleague and friend Suzanne reported the following conversation with her two-year old daughter recently.

At the breakfast table today, my daughter had a toddler spoon with three dots on it.

Daughter: “Look Mommy! 2 little dots and 1 big dot!”

Me: “How many are there all together?”

Daughter: “1, 2, 3!!”

Then she pretended to pick one off (all in her head…these are not removable dots).

Daughter: “Mommy! I took one off!”

Me: “How many are left?”

Daughter: “1, 2!”

pretends to take another off

Daughter: “I took one more off!”

Me: “How many are left now?”

Daughter: “1!”

Daughter: “Mommy! I took one off!”

Me: “How many are left?”

Daughter: “ZERO!!!”

The key moment occurs right at the beginning of the conversation. Suzanne’s daughter tells Suzanne something she notices about numbers, and Suzanne continues the conversation with a follow up question. Suzanne turns her daughter’s observation into a conversation.

Too often, people think about math learning as being about knowing facts, when in fact it is about habits of mind. The skill isn’t knowing that 2+1=3, the skill is thinking about numbers. You can prompt practice with that skill through conversations, and questions are what keep conversations rolling.

All children notice numbers, patterns and shapes in their world, just like they notice colors, animals and vehicles. When they do, ask a follow-up question.