Personal Care Routines and Infant Understandings of Mathematical Concepts

by Early Math Counts

As the days unfold during the first year of life, infants repeatedly experience personal care routines that will set the foundation for the development of their first mathematical understandings.  Personal care routines refer to the everyday caretaking of the infant, such as feeding, diapering, and sleeping sequences.

Each personal care routine has its own rhythm depending on who is performing it.  At our house, bedtime rituals were very different if I was the one putting Noah to sleep or if Larry was.  Since I was nursing him, I sat in the rocking chair and fed him while listening to music.  Once he was drifting off, I placed him in his crib and snuck out of the room. If Larry was putting him to sleep, I would nurse him and then hand him off to Larry.  He read a book and then sang a song and then rocked him until he drifted off.  Once Noah fell asleep, he tucked him in and snuck out of the room.  Regardless of who was participating in the routine, Noah learned that the events of bedtime happened in a sequence, and that sequence was predictable.  He anticipated the rocking chair, the snuggling, the books, and the songs and came to expect them in that order.

These daily routines create patterns that infants recognize and anticipate.  The consistency of the patterns is important, as new parents learn once their infants show displeasure when their expectations are not met.  However, even the youngest children can be quite flexible and can adjust their expectations depending on who is providing for their personal care routines. (“My teacher is different than my mommy and she changes my diaper differently, but they each do it in a certain and predictable way.”)

It is important that we see the acquisition of early math skills as brain-based and innate for typically developing children.  The mathematical concepts of patterns and sequences described above are not taught outright; they occur naturally in the life of an infant and are internalized by the infant.  Consistency is the key and should be encouraged in all areas of personal care.

3 Replies to “Personal Care Routines and Infant Understandings of Mathematical Concepts”

  1. This is very interesting that infants learn patterns, I can relate to having all infants in a classroom taking the nap at the same time. At the beginning it was challenging but we stay with a routine and the sequence was predictable for the babies, to the point that they knew after lunch they get a diaper change and go to sleep.

  2. I think back to when I had a toddler that would cry at the same time everyday and come to think of it, the child knew it was almost time to be picked up by mom, so having a routine everyday really helps the children know what to expect.

  3. I’ve noticed at the daycare center how infants recognize pattern in their daily routine. The day starts out with quite playtime just before breakfast is served. Tiny hands are washed and infants are placed at the highchair table to eat breakfast. Once they are done eating, hands are washed and some of the infants are placed in the play area to play while the others finish eating. When all the babies are done with breakfast one part of the class goes to the table for circle time while the rest of the group play quietly. If during these activities there’s a fire drill, which interrupts the normal pattern of the day, babies tend to become cranky and non cooperative. This is the result of the pattern they’ve become accustom to was changed.

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