1, 2, 3, and More! 7 Great Ideas for Teaching Early Math Skills

A guest article by The Savvy Source


How do children learn through shapes, patterns, and numbers?

All those hours of fun your child spends playing with shape sorters, puzzles, and blocks, putting pennies into his piggy bank, and helping you make cupcakes. Guess what? He is absorbing early math skills all the while playing these games: geometry, measurement, even computation. Who knew? What we want to know now is: a) when will he be able to take over balancing the checkbook and b) when will the cupcakes be ready?

Here are some of the math skills that experts have identified as essential for preschoolers to learn, plus a few parent-created activities to help you help your children learn more about the world around them.

  1. Try counting beans to help your child develop an understanding of addition and subtraction.
    Keep a plastic container filled with different beans—all colors and sizes. On a rainy afternoon, spread out a sheet or blanket on the floor and pour the beans out on a baking tray on the sheet. Give your toddler different cups, spoons, muffin tins to move, sort, count, and compare beans. You can make observations about numbers, sizes, textures, colors… the variations are endless!
  2. To help your child recognize and compare written numerals, create a number line.
    Create a number line from 1 to 20 on the floor with masking tape and numbers that have been cut out of construction paper. Each number should be about a foot apart. Practice counting up or down, adding or subtracting by having the kids jump up and down the number line.
  3. Play ‘The Change Game’ and learn to identify money.
    Teach your preschooler to distinguish between pennies, nickels, dime and quarters by emptying out some change from your wallet and having your child sort them and count them for you! As they become more advanced, they can count up the total amount of change you have. This is a great activity for when you have to wait and keep your little ones entertained.
  4. Set up a pretend grocery store and teach adding and subtracting to ten using concrete objects.
    Set up a room in your house like a grocery store. Put some of your kids’ favorite foods on tables and chairs for the ‘aisles’ of the grocery store. Then give your kids something to use as a basket and some money—real or pretend—to ‘buy’ their food. It’s a fun activity that can teach young children colors, shapes, counting, and food names. Older children can learn about making a recipe and finding food from all the food groups. And, who knows, the next trip to the grocery store might be a little more fun for them!
  5. Try ‘Sorting Shapes’ to help identify and sort basic figures: square, rectangle, triangle, circle.
    Find household objects that fall into 3 shape categories — circle, square, and triangle. For instance, you can use a wallet, a coin, a ball, a piece of bread cut into a triangle shape, a tomato. Once you have many objects, about 5 of each shape, put them on a table and ask your child to sort them by shape. This is great both for sorting and shape recognition!
  6. Play ‘Measure with Me’ and practice simple measurement.
    Which things in the house are taller than your child and which are shorter? Help her find out by cutting a length of string to her height and then “measuring” furniture, large toys, etc. to see which are shorter than she is and which are taller. You can also write down several household items and have your child guess ahead of time whether they will be taller or shorter. Write down the guesses and see if they were right as she makes the measurements. Learning to measure is an important skill for older preschoolers and kindergartners.
  7. Play ‘Bubble Count’ to practice counting from 1-31.
    My 4-year-old made up this game, and I thought it was rather clever! As I blow bubbles, she pops them with her finger as she says a number, counting on from number 1. As the bubbles float by, she pops and counts each one until she forgets what number she was on or can’t count any higher. Tagging bubbles as they’re popped teaches one-to-one correspondence, which is essential to understanding what numbers represent. It’s a fun way to reinforce sequencing, especially for those kinesthetic learners out there! Happy popping!

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