Ten Creative Ways to Teach Math

  • Grades: PreK–K

Here are some activities for your classroom to add a bit of sparkle and creativity. As children work, ask critical questions such as "Did you try this?" "What would have happened if?" "Do you think you could?" to enhance children's understanding of mathematical ideas and vocabulary.

  1. Use dramatizations . Invite children pretend to be in a ball (sphere) or box (rectangular prism), feeling the faces, edges, and corners and to dramatize simple arithmetic problems such as: Three frogs jumped in the pond, then one more, how many are there in all?

  2. Use children's bodies. Suggest that children show how many feet, mouths, and so on they have. When asked to show their "three arms," they respond loudly in protest, and then tell the adult how many they do have and show ("prove") it. Then invite children to show numbers with fingers, starting with the familiar, "How old are you?" to showing numbers you say, to showing numbers in different ways (for example, five as three on one hand and two on the other).

  3. Use children's play. Engage children in block play that allows them to do mathematics in numerous ways, including sorting, seriating, creating symmetric designs and buildings, making patterns, and so forth. Then introduce a game of Dinosaur Shop. Suggest that children pretend to buy and sell toy dinosaurs or other small objects, learning counting, arithmetic, and money concepts.

  4. Use children's toys. Encourage children to use "scenes" and toys to act out situations such as three cars on the road, or, later in the year, two monkeys in the trees and two on the ground.

  5. Use children's stories. Share books with children that address mathematics but are also good stories. Later, help children see mathematics in any book. In Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey (Penguin, 1993), children can copy "kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!" and later tell you the number as you slowly drop up to four counters into a coffee can.
  6. Use children's natural creativity. Children's ideas about mathematics should be discussed with all children. Here's a "mathematical conversation" between two boys, each 6 years of age: "Think of the biggest number you can. Now add five. Then, imagine if you had that many cupcakes." " Wow, that's five more than the biggest number you could come up with!"

  7. Use children's problem-solving abilities. Ask children to describe how they would figure out problems such as getting just enough scissors for their table or how many snacks they would need if a guest were joining the group. Encourage them to use their own fingers or manipulatives or whatever else might be handy for problem solving.

  8. Use a variety of strategies. Bring mathematics everywhere you go in your classroom, from counting children at morning meeting to setting the table, to asking children to clean up a given number or shape of items. Also, use a research-based curriculum to incorporate a sequenced series of learning activities into your program.

  9. Use technology. Try digital cameras to record children's mathematical work, in their play and in planned activities, and then use the photographs to aid discussions and reflections with children, curriculum planning, and communication with parents. Use computers wisely to mathematize situations and provide individualized instruction.

  10. Use assessments to measure children's mathematics learning. Use observations, discussions with children, and small-group activities to learn about children's mathematical thinking and to make informed decisions about what each child might be able to learn from future experiences. Also try computer assessments. Use programs that assess children automatically.

Adapted from the Building Blocks project's DLM Early Childhood Express Math ; Clements & Sarama, 2003a; Schiller, Clements, Sarama, & Lara-Alecio, 2003

  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, Early Math, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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