Recommended Read: Math in the Bath (NAEYC)

By Sarah Erdmann
Republished by NAEYC. View the article at the NAEYC website here

Bath time is perfect for exploring math with your young child! Not only do you have each other’s full attention, but the learning can be hands on, playful, and messy.

These explorations can also be done at a water table, sink, pool, or even a puddle! No matter what water spot you use, safety must be your main focus. Never ever leave your child alone, even for a minute! This is an activity that needs your complete attention.

Make sure that any toys or containers dry out completely between uses, and disinfect toys if several children will use them. Be sure to check toys for mold and replace them when needed. More detailed water safety tips can be found on the Red Cross’s website.

Infants and Toddlers

The very youngest mathematicians are learning what numbers are and that they mean something. Children are also learning to compare the shapes, colors and patterns they see.

Comparing and contrasting

Comparing and contrasting what is happening in the bathtub is a great place to start. It builds children’s math vocabulary and draws attention to what you're doing. “Your arm is dry. Now I’ll pour some water on it and your arm is wet!” “This cup is floating on the water. When we fill it up, it sinks to the bottom!” With these statements, you give your child a way to describe and compare those different states and shown them the step by step process for how it happened!

“I’m going to take the red square washcloth and dip it in the water. Now it is all wet so I can wash you!” By mentioning that the washcloth is square and red, your child sees two more ways to categorize it!


Count as you wash each part of your child's body. “One arm, two arms! You have two arms!” Count their fingers and toes, gently wash each ear. This repeated, concrete exposure to numbers will help her understand the concept of counting.


Toddlers who are able to sit up and grasp objects can do some hands-on math learning as well! Offer different sized containers and encourage your child to use them to dump and pour water. “Now there is a lot of water in the red cup! The yellow cup has less water!” Your child is building her awareness of volume, while also strengthening her fingers and hands.

When you ask her to hand you something, describe the item. “Please hand me the hard, little, cup.” You can also ask your child to wash different parts of her body and help you count as she goes.

Without a lot of extra equipment or time, you’re showing your infant or toddler that math is useful and fun to explore.


As children grow to preschool age, they build up their understanding of numbers. They are measuring, finding shapes and patterns, and even beginning to explore the concept of time. They’re also continuing to use math terms as they talk and categorize objects by different characteristics like shape, size and color.

A lot of the math play previously described for infants and toddlers is still great for preschoolers.

Give your child the washcloth and ask him to wash and count his body parts. Not only is he counting, but he's also using one-to-one correspondence, matching one object to another object, to make sure he washes all of his fingers and toes. Give your child containers of all shapes and sizes and let him pour, drip and measure. Ask him to describe what he's doing, the types of containers he has, and which ones have more or less water. You can even start to help him understand that if you pour water from a wide container into a skinny one . . . the amount of water doesn’t change! This is an idea that may be hard for young children to understand, so don’t worry if they don’t quite believe you.

At this age, children are more comfortable with the idea of measuring, so you can go farther with it. Give your child an old ruler so he can see how deep the water is. Discuss temperature and whether the water feels hot or cold. Have him see how many rubber ducks it would take to go across the whole tub.

Bath toys can be sorted or put into patterns. They can also be props in math games. For example, line up several rubber ducks and reenact the “Five Little Ducks” song:

    Five little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away

    Mother duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack”

    But only four little ducks came back . . . (Keep the song going until you reach zero ducks)

Math in the bath (don’t you like how that sounds?) is a chance for your child to play with math concepts and ideas. It also shows them what math can look like in the real world and how they might use it. And as an added bonus? They are squeaky clean by the end of the lesson!

Story from the Studio: An Inside Look at Environment as the Third Teacher

Magical. Whimsical. Serene. Nurturing. Comfortable. Homey. Art-filled. Inspiring. Beautiful. 
As atelierista, Italian for art director, of Preschool of the Arts for over a decade, these adjectives are all in the forefront of my mind during my weekly visits. It is my responsibility, as well as my passion, to ensure that all five of our locations stay true to our school’s Reggio inspired objective of creating and maintaining beautiful environments embodying all of these characteristics. You may find me perched high on a stool, hanging children’s artwork, arranging holiday displays, or carefully extending my measuring tape across a classroom wall to make way for a new piece of furniture. You may just as likely find me sitting in the art studio, happily working with a group of children who are painting colorful canvases. Reggio inspired schools are unique in a multitude of ways, but perhaps most compelling to me is the strong emphasis they place on the beauty of the school environment and in drawing out children’s innate desire and ability to create.

Children attending Reggio schools are said to have three teachers – their parents, their classroom teachers, and their school environment.  

Referring to the environment as the third teacher may not be as far-fetched as you think.  
Children thrive when they work and play in beautiful, serene, well-organized, magical environments, accessorized with the comforts of home. Beautifully designed furniture and the soft touches of home, such as cozy pillows, and comfortable sofas, help ease the transition between school and home. Toys and supplies, well organized and placed within reach of children, help promote their independence. Beautiful objects from naturedisplayed in pleasing ways, help inspire the children’s interest and curiosity about the world and their connection to nature. Additionally, they help stimulate the creative juices necessary for them to flourish in a fast-paced and dizzying world. Children’s artwork, beautifully displayed with the utmost care and dignity, imbues them with self-confidence and a sense of individuality.  

Our school boasts authentic-looking trees growing in the common spaces, an indoor living garden, classroom fireplaces, art studios, a huge indoor sandbox, comfortable parent lounges, kitchens in every classroom, light tables, a modern children’s library, and beautiful children’s art displays, to name a few of the most distinctive and special features. In addition to beautifying our school, these spaces are always very carefully planned with our educational objectives in mind. 

I absolutely relish the opportunity I have to work with our children in the art studio.  I love introducing them to a new art medium and watching their eyes light up in anticipation of trying it out.  Our children have created artwork with water, acrylic, and tempera paints, markers, crayons, colored pencils, oil and chalk pastels, clay, wire, and a wide assortment of collage materials.  Young children's work is bold, un-self-conscious, and full of joie de vivre. If their gusto and enthusiasm to create art is nurtured properly, as I strive continuously to do, it will develop into a lifelong passion for art.  Art will become a natural and pleasurable means of self expression for them. 

Leah Malka Weinstein
MS Early Childhood Education, Atelierista