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Tips and Tricks

Encourage Early Math Learning

Adding real-world math into everyday play for your little ones can keep math learning interesting.

We all know the importance of an early reading initiative to embrace literacy. Many read books to our little ones still in the womb, but what about that third R in the in the 3 R’s of education? When should arithmetic become part of the daily mix? As with any other foundational skill, the sooner it’s introduced, the better. A Missouri study of students in kindergarten through seventh grade found that students who enter first grade without an understanding of number function will fall behind their peers in math and most likely never catch up to them. That’s one of those wow statistics that makes me stand up and take notice. Therefore, the more opportunities and encounters we give our children with everyday math, the more prepared they will be to find success with math in the future.

There’s no need to set aside “math time” every day to build a solid foundation of skills. All the concepts that preschoolers should be developing can be found in real-world math situations. These are situations that we encounter every day without saying, It’s time to put on my math thinking cap! We make change, pack the correct amount of lunches, sort laundry, “eyeball” measurements, allocate enough time to drive a particular distance (well, most of the time), etc. When we involve our kids in these everyday thought processes and create opportunities for them to use math skills, we are helping to pave the way for their future success in math.

With preschoolers, laundry is something that is never in short supply. Having a helper sort colors and whites or the nuances of lights and darks is an easy everyday activity. If your child enjoys making pretend roadways out of various items (e.g., straws, toilet paper rolls, sticks) or stacking blocks, have them pave a road or build a tower out of one material and guess how many of another it will take to create a second structure of the same length or height (i.e., a 5 straw road is the same length as one of 8 toilet paper rolls). This will help them work with both measurement and estimation. It’s always fun to find new uses for all the recyclable items we feel the need to keep stockpiling! If we talk about shapes, size, and symmetry, this will make them more purposeful when designing structures. Adding some math words here and there during everyday play will help our kids develop an understanding of basic math vocabulary.

By simply adding a little twist to a typical activity, we can incorporate real-world math into everyday play. I love the ideas shared by Teach Preschool. While the activities shared were done in the classroom, they can easily be done at home too. We’re always in the kitchen at my house, so cooking and counting/sorting snacks are easily transformed into math practice activities. Building an understanding of less/more and dividing items into piles becomes very engaging when marshmallows or goldfish are the objects of choice! I think all kids are born collectors, so setting up jars for sorting odds and ends or collected items to use for estimation can become a fun guessing game for the whole family. Whether it’s a jar of acorns or buttons, estimating and counting will be entertainment for all!

If your child can count to 100, that’s great, but understanding that he needs to bring 8 cookies to the table so that all 4 people have 2 each is showing knowledge of number sense. We need to ensure that our kids are using math and numbers in real-world situations rather than as simple rote memorization. By bringing math to life in our everyday activities at home, we are building the foundation for an easy transition into the math our kids will encounter in kindergarten and beyond.

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