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.