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Citation for this article: Osterhaus, S.A. (2004). Susan's math technology corner: Early Childhood: Where Learning Mathematics Begins. Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly, 49(3), 41-47.

Early childhood is when and where children begin to discover that math is all around them. They use, enjoy, and think about math and don't even realize it. Math activities are embedded in real-life activities and "help children develop language as they ask questions, develop fine motor skills as they touch and move objects, and improve social skills as they work" with parents and others on a problem (Fromboluti & Rinck, 1999). All children develop at different rates. Visually impaired students may need extra time to develop and learn, so it is extremely important that they are given opportunities to participate and learn at an early age. There is a great wealth of information on teaching mathematics in early childhood that is not specific to visual impairment. Nevertheless, many of these activities either need no adaptation or can be easily adapted. Just make sure that the adaptations are appropriate.

A Few Early Childhood Mathematics Education Links to Get You Started

What sort of activities might reinforce the NCTM principles and standards at the early childhood level?

  • Read children's books that rhyme or repeat, contain numbers and tactile pictures, and use multiple senses.
  • Sort objects looking for similarities in either color, shape, or size.
  • Sort objects looking for differences, like which box is bigger.
  • Touch and manipulate containers, blocks, shape sorters, and puzzles.
  • Count and become familiar with numbers.
  • Share food, chores, or treats by dividing into equal portions.
  • Place stickers in columns on a piece of braille graph paper to make a chart of how many of each type of food were consumed during the week.

To implement these activities, parents and teachers can use many items easily found in the home or environment. There are also several sources for early childhood math manipulatives that need no adaptation or are easily adapted (Osterhaus, 2002). However, there are also a few vendors who are making a real effort to invent/locate/adapt math tools specifically for the young visually impaired child. These vendors include (but are not limited to):

American Printing House for the Blind

On the Way to Literacy Storybooks Illustrated with Thermoforms

The Gumdrop Tree

A tree which grows from a gumdrop! The raised-line drawings depict the growth of the tree. The gumdrops are shown in a row, circle, square, etc. Includes scented stickers.

Jellybean Jungle

A counting rhyme about a magical jungle filled with jellybeans. From one to ten, the jellybeans appear in rows for easier counting. Scented stickers included.

Puzzle Form Board Kit

Aid for teaching basic concepts such as shape, texture, color, size, and matching. This kit includes five different puzzle shapes (3 variations each) with puzzle frames: circle, diamond, square, rectangle, and triangle.

Peg Kit

Contains nine pegs of varying sizes, colors, and textures; a manipulation/storage container; and six inset frames with holes of varying number and size. Frames fit into the top of the container and provide for manipulating the pegs.

Tactile Treasures

Teaches more than 90 concepts related to shape, size, comparison of two or more objects, amount, position, and page orientation. 79 thermoformed sheets featuring tactile pictures created from real objects that illustrate math and language concepts.

Feel n Peel Stickers

Multi-use tactile/visual stickers.

  • Assorted
  • Point Symbols
  • Reward Statements
  • Faces
  • Alphabet

Exceptional Teaching Aids

Hands-On Soft Geometric Solids

Contains 12 geometric solids: cone, sphere, hemisphere, cube, pyramid, cylinders, prisms, and rectangular solids.

Geometric Shapes Jumbo Knob Puzzle

These super-sized solid wood puzzles are the perfect first puzzle.

Shape Sorting Pounder

Sort geometric shapes and develop fine motor skills at the same time.

Deluxe Magnet Wipe-Off Board and Holding Magnets

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This dual-purpose coated metal board is perfect for use with strong colorful plastic coated magnets. The set includes 40 round magnets and 40 rectangular magnets housed in sturdy storage containers. Four dry erase markers are also included. The magnets are excellent for developing math concepts.

Peel & Stick WonderFoam®


WonderFoam®has peel and stick backing. It is available in a 720-piece bag of assorted colors, shapes, and sizes and a package containing 20 sheets of assorted bright colors. The sheets are 9" by 12".

Independent Living Aids

Head Start Set of Tactile Images with Braille Booklets

Three booklets introduce the young child to the braille alphabet, numbers, and shapes. Using a polymeric material on heavyweight paper, results in braille and graphics that are easy to feel and durable.

Braille Math Blocks


Sixteen colorful wooden blocks with numbers (0 - 9) and plus, minus, and equals signs that are embossed and brailled in Nemeth code. In addition, the corresponding number of recessed circles have been embossed next to the numbers.

Variety Texture, Color and Size Round Stick-Ons

Included are 2 sheets each of 23 brown felt, 28 green velour and 18 cork round stick ons. The large stick-ons measure ½" and the small ones ¼" in diameter.

Feel and Find

Each of the 10 geometric and 10 object shapes fits into its corresponding cut out that has a textured base. Children play by dealing the tiles and then reaching into the bag to feel for the matching shape. Great tactile exercise for all kids.

Geometric Sorting Games

Young children learn size progression, shapes and quantities when playing with this colorful wooden toy. It has 20 geometrically shaped wooden pieces in size progression.

Talking Ship Ahoy Sorter

Three fun games teach shape identification, sorting, color recognition, animals and their sounds, and matching. The child places the shapes into their matching holes to hear the names of the shapes. When the four differently shaped objects are placed into the ship, it plays "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". Includes volume control & automatic shut-off.

Brailled Count and Learn The Shapes

This fun and educational puzzle teaches numbers and basic shapes. Made of high-density foam, each of 10 numbers fit into the form with the equivalent number of shapes. Each number section has been brailled and each of the shapes on each section has been brailled with the same number, allowing progressively more difficult math concepts to be learned.


Susan A. Osterhaus
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Phone: 512-206-9305