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Practicing Math Skills with Your Child

Practicing Math Skills with Your Child
Posted on January 10, 2020 by CHS

Young children between the ages of birth and five years old learn math skills through play and daily routines. Parents can support their child’s development by practicing math skills at home or during errands. There is no need to purchase special materials or be an expert in math in order to support your child’s learning. You can use materials you already have in your home to play math games, inspire conversations about math, and practice simple math skills every day.

Math Development: Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers develop cognitive skills that prepare them for math when they play and participate in self-care routines. These skills include understanding spatial relationships (the ability to locate objects or move around them), sizes, patterns, quantities (volume), learning how to organize (classify) items, experiencing cause and effect, pretending during play, and collecting treasures.

You can support your infant or toddler’s cognitive development by:

  • Stacking plastic cups, baskets, or boxes that fit inside each other.
  • Exploring rattles that make similar or different sounds. You can also fill empty plastic water bottles with dry beans or rice to make your own shakers.
  • Sorting plastic lids (make sure they are not sharp!) from empty containers of butter, yogurt, or other types of storage containers.
  • Practicing how to open and close empty food containers or boxes.
  • Stringing plastic or metal bracelets on a large piece of yarn or shoestring.
  • Rolling a ball back and forth together.
  • Choosing toys with knobs, levers, or latches.
  • Using pots, pans, plastic bowls, and wooden spoons to make music.
  • Playing pretend with stuffed animals, sock puppets, adult clothing (dress-up), and boxes (pretend they are a house, rocket ship, store, etc.).
  • Rocking your baby as you sing a song and gently pat her back to the beat of the music.
  • Decorating a shoe box that can be used to store little treasures like rocks, shells, favorite toys, or other items valued by your child.
  • Creating routines such as how to wash hands, how events in the day are ordered, bedtime rituals, etc.

Math Development: Preschool (Ages 3 to 5)

Preschool aged children are expanding on the cognitive skills they learned in infancy in order to develop the math skills they will need when they enter elementary school. The skills preschoolers typically develop are:

  • Number Sense: The ability to identify numbers, understand quantities, and number relationships like cardinality (knowing the last number counted is the total number of objects), or simple operations (whether amounts are equal, whether one container holds more).
  • Algebra and Functions: This refers to a child’s ability to classify and recognize or create patterns. Classification is being able to recognize similarities and differences in objects and group things together according to type (all red items together). Patterning skills involve being able to identify a pattern such as two red beads, followed by 1 blue bead, then 2 red beads, and 1 blue bead.
  • Measurement: Measurement involves comparing and ordering. For example, knowing which is the largest or longest, and being able to place objects in order from smallest to largest.
  • Geometry: This is learning to identify and manipulate shapes. Children also develop a stronger understanding of spatial awareness.
  • Mathematical Reasoning: This refers to a child’s ability to use a combination of math skills and logic in order to try different solutions and solve a problem.

You can help your preschooler practice math skills by:

  • Inviting your child to count things around you when you take a walk, stand in a line, or ride a bus.
  • Sorting and folding laundry together, matching socks, and learning how to fold towels.
  • Visiting a playground where your child can crawl through tunnels and climb.
  • Talking about math during meals. For example, “I have 1 apple and there are 2 of us. How can we share it? How many apple slices are there?”
  • Playing scavenger hunt games. Challenge your child to find 3 things that are smaller than her shoe, the same size as her thumb, or hunt for shapes and colors like red stop signs, star shapes, etc.
  • Using fingers to count, or doing simple addition or subtraction so your child can see the math.
  • Giving your child directions that use positional words like “look for it under, next to, behind…”
  • Playing guessing games to practice estimation skills like, “How many marbles are in this jar?”
  • Having conversations that include math vocabulary. For example, “How many are there if we add one? Subtract two? Divide them in half?”
  • Exploring music and dance. Emphasize the steady beat of music by clapping along or teach your child dance steps (pattern).
  • Working on puzzles together. You can make your own puzzles by cutting up a picture from a magazine.
  • Reading books that teach math concepts. Your local librarian can help you select books that are appropriate for your child’s age.
  • Letting your child use a calculator to add up how much groceries will be while you shop.

Playing these simple games with your child can help her develop the math skills she will need when she enters school. For more information and activity ideas, visit the websites below.

References and Resources

First 5 California: Order a Free Parenting Kit

Hands-On Math Activities for Preschoolers

How to Make Laundry Count (Video)

Kid Builders: Activities for Infants through Age Five

Math at Home Toolkit by NAEYC

Put Your Kitchen in Order with Math (Video)

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Brochure by CHS

Young Mathematicians: Activities and Resources

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