Children are using early math skills in their daily routines to help build a foundation that will continue throughout their educational journey. But early math skills do not include times tables or division, but merely creating a strong foundation of number recognition before kindergarten. Children should enter Kindergarten with the ability to count verbally (first forward, then backward), recognizing numerals, identifying more or less quantity, and understanding one-to-one correspondence.
Listed below are a few examples as to how you can help build strong math skills with your child.
•Count and sort. Gather together a basket of small toys, shells, pebbles or buttons. Count them with each child. Sort them based on size, color, or what they do (i.e., all the cars in one pile, all the animals in another).
•Place the call. With your three year old, begin teaching her the address and phone number of your home. Talk with your child about how each house has a number, and how their house or apartment is one of a series, each with its own number.
•What size is it? Notice the sizes of objects in the world around you: That pink pocketbook is the biggest. The blue pocketbook is the smallest. Ask your child to think about his own size relative to other objects (“Do you fit under the table? Under the chair?”).
•You’re cookin’ now! Even young children can help fill, stir, and pour. Through these activities, children learn, quite naturally, to count, measure, add, and estimate.
•Picture time. Use an hourglass, stopwatch, or timer to time short (1-3 minute) activities. This helps children develop a sense of time and to understand that some things take longer than others.
•Read and sing your numbers. Sing songs that rhyme, repeat, or have numbers in them. Songs reinforce patterns (which is a math skill as well). They also are fun ways to practice language and foster social skills like cooperation.
•Start today. Use a calendar to talk about the date, the day of the week, and the weather. Calendars reinforce counting, sequences, and patterns. Build logical thinking skills by talking about cold weather and asking your child: What do we wear when it’s cold? This encourages your child to make the link between cold weather and warm clothing.
•Pass it around. Ask for your child’s help in distributing items like snacks or in laying napkins out on the dinner table. Help him give one cracker to each child. This helps children understand one-to-one correspondence. When you are distributing items, emphasize the number concept: “One for you, one for me, one for Daddy.” Or, “We are putting on our shoes: One, two.”
•Playground math. As your child plays, make comparisons based on height (high/low), position (over/under), or size (big/little).
Remember children are naturally visual and can build relationships between numbers and a represented item.