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Toddler Math Talk

Published in The Alliance For Early Childhood, February 9, 2024

By Tammy Steele:

When my children were toddlers, math talk was not on my list of conversational topics, but I wish it had been. We know now through the research of educators and medical professionals, that a oddler’s math talk is a leading indicator of future school success. If you always cringed at the thought of math talk, don’t worry, it doesn’t look like school math because toddlers’ brains are not ready for calculation. However, young children are ready to learn about essential math concepts such as more or less, same or different, and sooner or later. They are also ready to learn math words while they play, eat, and clean up. Adding math conversation to your routine doesn’t take more time, it takes more math words.

The Hechinger Report, Letters to the Editor

Covering Innovation & Inequality in Education

Published in The Hechinger Report, May 26, 2020

Tammy Steele says:

May 27, 2020

Many times parents aren’t aware of the educational value of activities they already do with their children. By adding more complex language and math talk to play experiences, parents provide the perfect match of motivation (your child chose the play), with parent-teacher ratio (1 to 1). Sometimes both teachers and parents try activities that are developmentally inappropriate for a child (too much too soon). There are good websites for parents co-teaching:,, are aimed at parents of children ages 6 and under. Hechinger editors might help parents by vetting these websites and others.

Tammy Steele: Talking a Child to Success

Kay Whitfield, July 8, 2018

by Judy Carmack Bross

On the cover of her new book, The Gift of Words: How do Children Learn to Talk?, Chicago educator Tammy Steele declares, “Words bring success, words make winners.”

Read on—the beautiful guidebook for parents and children, illustrated by Tammy herself, shows how early vocabulary building spells success in school, at work and in life. Using language acquisition research published in 1995, Tammy tells parents it’s never too young to start the conversation.

Growing up in Little Rock in a family of six children, Tammy always felt her mother was fascinated by what she and her siblings were trying to say, allowing her to develop the canny ability to spark conversations with enthusiasm, wisdom, and what-ifs—making her one of our city’s education cheerleaders.


She shares:

“Parents can give a child the gift of words starting at birth. It doesn’t take more time—it takes more words. Recent brain research shows that infants’ brains have cells ready to learn language. They need to hear and say millions of words before they are three years old. Not different words, just words parents already say to them each day.”

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