“Mom! Why do I have to learn Algebra? It isn’t like I use it in real life.” Hold up, you actually do. We literally use math all the time.
-Following a map on your phone? You’re using math.
-Measuring while you follow a recipe? You’re using math.
-Counting out money to pay your kid’s allowance? You’re using math.
Math teaches order and logic; it teaches us to problem solve and to extend those mathematical principles to other aspects of our life. With a bigger emphasis on math in the older grades, it’s important to start building a foundation for your child prior to starting kindergarten. This sounds daunting, but guess what? Even babies can grasp math concepts (“More!”) and are interested in learning, especially when puffs are involved. Math at the early level is very visual and hands-on, which is great for young children since this is how they learn best. It’s also great for parents because it makes these math concepts fun and easy to work on!
Here are some math concepts and activities that you can focus on at home with your pre-schooler to get them ready for the big K!
Concept #1: Number Sense – This is a fancy term for your child’s understanding of numbers; do they know that the digit represents a specific amount? Are they aware of how numbers are related to each other (Is 3 bigger than 4 or 5?). As they get older, this term refers to completing operations with numbers, recognizing symbols (+,-,x) and the ability to use mental math.
-Animal Line-Up: Line up those cute stuffed animals and have your child count them. This works on their one-to-one correspondence.
-Calendar Wake-Up: Incorporate a calendar into your morning routine. Have a dry erase or chalkboard calendar, with a special symbol/marker for the date. Start each morning by saying, “What’s today’s date?” Let your child move the marker to the correct date. Then, work together to count each day from the beginning of the month to the date.
-Egg Carton Counting: Using the bottom of an empty egg carton, have your child place little toys in each compartment, counting as they go.
-Number Flashcards: Using index cards, put numerals up to 10 on single cards. On other cards, draw a visual of each number (i.e. 1 bear, 2 bears, etc.). Work with your child to match the numeral to the visual representation.
-Uno Number Match: Use Uno cards to practice number matching (put all the ones together, all the twos together,etc)
-Domino Trains: With colored dominos, have your child match the number of dots to create a train.
Concept #2: Geometry – This part of math looks at shapes, sizes, position of figures in a field, and the properties of space. It becomes much more in-depth and complicated as your child grows, but with little ones, it really focuses on shapes: identifying shapes, learning shape names, and finding shapes in everyday life.
-Shape-Sorting 101: Playing with a shape sorter or shape matching puzzle is an easy way to talk about and learn shapes. Letting your child work on these activities is beneficial on its own but step it up by narrating their play and problem solving. Name the shapes, talk about where they go. Did it fit? Where else it might go?
-Everyday Shapes: Use shape language when you’re talking about common items. For example, when making breakfast, if your kids eats waffles, “Look at the waffle! It’s a circle. What other things can you see that are a circle?” The clock, the plate, the rim of the glass…you get the picture. Step it up a notch and talk about how the shape changes as they take bites. “Oh, now I see a crescent moon. Wait, if you rotate it, it becomes a boat sailing the choppy, blue sea.”
-Shape Book: If your child likes to take pictures with your phone (Whose kid doesn’t?!), consider making an environmental shape book. When you’re out and about, talk about the different shapes you see. Let them use your phone to take pictures of the different shapes. You can then review these pictures on your phone, or if you’re really motivated, you can print them out and make a book.
-Construction Paper Shape Sorting: Cut out different shapes from construction paper. Have your child sort the shapes into categories. Then they can use a glue stick to paste all the triangles onto a piece of paper, all the rectangles, etc.
-Spaghetti Shapes: I saw this on www.teachingmama.org and thought it was just great! (FYI – this website has a lot of really great at home activities for learning). Make spaghetti (probably the thicker noodle, the better) and have your child make shapes with the noodles.
Concept #3: Spatial Relations – This term describes how an object is perceived in space as it relates to another object. Some key terms here would be: bigger, smaller, next to, inside, and outside.
-Key Word Scavenger Hunt: Kind of like I-Spy but with description. Pick a visible object and then describe it using words such as beside, next to, in front of, etc. and see if your child can find it.
-Directional Hide and Seek: Start this game by hiding an object. Then give your child directions to find the object: “It’s behind the chair. It’s underneath your blanket. It’s outside under the tree.”
-Item Line-Up: Remember those stuffed animals you guys lined up to count? Now have your child put them in order from smallest to biggest. Have a set of nesting blocks? Have your child stack them from biggest to smallest.
All of these concepts are exposing your children to math vocabulary; shape words, number words, ordinal and positional words, and money words are all words you can start using even when your children are teeny. Building that vocabulary will increase their knowledge base, which in turn, will help increase their ability to learn and understand when they get to kindergarten.