The Math Skills Kids Need Before First Grade

Great math activities to help kindergartners prepare for moving up.

By DeAnn Marie O’Toole
  • Grades: PreK–K

Instant Math Centers
Visit for links to these PreK–K activities.

Count and Sort Gummy Bears
Students sort counting bears or candy by color.

Hunt for Circles and Squares
Kids color circles and squares to complete a fun scavenger hunt.

Copy Buggy Patterns
Students continue the bumblebee and snail pattern.

Count With a Buddy

Focus skill: Counting

How to teach it: We all know that counting is not as simple as it seewms. Next time you practice, enlist older students to pair up with your little ones and go on a school “counting walk.” The older children can point out bricks in the wall, tiles on the floor, art on bulletin boards, students in a classroom, books on a shelf, pencils in a cup, numbers on a clock, mailboxes in the office, or cars in the parking lot. The younger kids should mark what they find using a recording sheet and clipboard. Invite the older students back from time to time for more counting fun!

Measure the Principal

Focus skill: Measurement

How to teach it: Bring whimsy to your measurement lessons by including your principal. Have him or her begin by reading Measuring Penny, by Loreen Leedy. Then discuss how the dog in the book was measured using biscuits instead of a ruler or measuring tape. Here’s the fun part: Invite students to come up with different units they could use to measure the principal. Have several nonstandard items on hand, such as straws, clothespins, or building blocks. Let the students decide how to attack this problem, but help them see that it might be easier to trace the principal’s shape onto a piece of butcher paper first. Display the butcher paper and measurements in the hallway with the title “Our Principal Measures Up!”

Make Snack Patterns

Focus skill: Patterns

How to teach it: To reinforce the concept of patterns, invite kids to make AB patterns with nutritious snacks. Provide raisins, granola, sesame seeds, and small crackers on a paper plate. Create an AB pattern in two different colors on the board. Ask students to copy your pattern using two of the items on their plates. Next, challenge pairs of students to create AB patterns of their own. Students should then trade seats and extend their partners’ patterns. To finish the activity, give each student a cream cheese–filled celery stick. Ask them to create a new AB pattern on the stick, then evaluate their work before it disappears!

Play Number Charades

Focus skill: Ordinal numbers

How to teach it: Students need lots of practice writing ordinal numbers before first grade. Prior to class, write the numbers 0–9 on pieces of paper and put them into a hat. Arrange students in groups of fours. Choose one group to stand in front of the class and pick a number from the hat. Challenge group members to make that number with their bodies—either standing up or lying on the floor. They may need your help getting started, but see if they’re able to do most of the planning on their own. The seated students should write the number on their dry-erase boards. Check answers and then switch groups. Follow this activity with some gross-motor number-writing practice by squirting a small pile of shaving cream onto students’ desks. Have students use their fingers to write in the shaving cream.

Compare Crayons

Focus skill: Comparison

How to teach it: Comparison is at the heart of mathematical reasoning. To practice this skill, invite each student to choose a crayon from your supply box. Then challenge children to line the crayons up from tallest to shortest. Begin with two students comparing the lengths of their crayons by holding them next to each other. The student with the taller crayon lines up by the door, and the student with the shorter one compares the length of their
crayon to the next child’s. Continue this process until all crayons are put in the correct order. Play again with pencils or shoes, or simply use the students’ heights. 

  • Subjects:
    Counting and Numbers, Early Math

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