3-5 yrs

Exploring Mathematical Concepts at a Young Age

Your child’s day is filled with potential math moments. Here are a few tips to help build math into their everyday routine.

Learning moments can happen anytime, anywhere. Whether you are indoors, outdoors, or on the go, your child’s day is filled with potential math moments. For example, when your child helps you set the table for dinner, when you pick out a specific number of oranges at the grocery store, or when you help your child find two socks that match you are making math part of your daily routine. Using “math talk” (words such as under, over, around, and fast, faster, fastest) and exploring math concepts during everyday activities builds vocabulary and helps your child understand that math is fun and important.

Early exploration of math concepts supports your child’s development of skills that will help her succeed in school and beyond. Remember that math isn’t just about numbers, but also about recognizing shapes, spaces, and sizes, asking questions and solving problems. Try the activities below to help you incorporate math into your everyday routine!

When you’re around the house: In your living room, play “guess the object” with your child using math words like “under”, “over”, “next to”, and “behind” as clues to describe where an object is located. You might say, “I see something under the table,” or, “I see something next to the sofa.” Now ask your child to describe where things are, using the words “under”, “over”, “next to”, and “behind”. This helps build your child’s math vocabulary and her understanding of spatial concepts. You can also go on a shape hunt. Call out a shape and ask your child to find things in the room with that shape. What is the shape of a magazine? A clock? As you search, talk about what makes a shape a shape by describing the different attributes. For example, explain that a rectangle has four sides and four angles and that a circle has no angles; it has curves. As you find shapes together, count the sides and angles.

When it’s mealtime: Look to common kitchen items to help your child learn to count! Encourage her to count spoons, chopsticks, cups or bowls. Help her practice one-to-one correspondence by setting the table with one cup, one plate, and one set of silverware for each guest. Cooking is also a great time to explore math concepts, such as measurement and counting. Together count how many cups of flour or rice are needed for a recipe or use different tools to measure ingredients. Is the measuring cup full or empty? Compare two measuring cups of different sizes. Which one holds more?

When it’s time to clean up: Make clean-up time a fun learning experience when things get messy in your child’s room! Try counting – how many things can your child pick up at the same time? Or have him pick up five round things. Try stacking three small things on top of one big thing. Sort toys into boxes or shelves based on size, using language such as big, bigger, biggest.

When you’re playing outside: When you are at the park, encourage your child to say where he is: “I am under the monkey bars,” or, “I’m going around the slide.” You can also use chalk to make patterns. Draw a pattern on the sidewalk, such as circle, circle, square, circle, circle, square. Encourage your child to notice that a pattern is a series of pictures or things that repeat at least twice in the same way over and over again. Then hand the chalk to him and ask him to continue your pattern. Ask, “Circle, circle, square. Circle, circle, what comes next?” Take turns making patterns for each other.

When you’re taking a trip to the store: Make a numbered shopping list before you go. For example, you might write, “4 apples, 2 containers of curd, 12 eggs.” You can also Introduce the math vocabulary word “dozen.” As you shop for these items, count aloud. Also, try grouping items as you go. As you pass different displays, point how the items are organized. Talk about how you might group things by color, size or weight. Which items would go together? Finally, ask your child to pick out two items while you pick out three. Put all the items into one bag. Then say, “I put in three and you put in two. How many did we gather all together? Let’s count together and find out!”

When it’s bedtime: Before you turn off the lights, hold up ten fingers. Then count down together, starting with the number ten: “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. [Turn lights off.] Sweet dreams!”

Keep exploring! Don’t stop with these activities. Math is everywhere! Making math moments a part of everyday routines helps strengthen your child’s understanding of the world around her. Math discovery is not only fun, it also sets your child on a path to becoming a lifelong problem-solver and critical thinker.

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