Preschool Readiness: 9 Playful Ways to Build Early Math Skills

Show your little one that math is everywhere with these fun activities you can do at home and on the go.
By Maggie McGuire
Sep 23, 2014



Preschool Readiness: 9 Playful Ways to Build Early Math Skills

Sep 23, 2014

When your little one heads to preschool, he'll be engaging in daily preschool math activities that include learning numbers, practicing counting, creating and learning shapes, and working with the calendar.  Preschoolers will learn to count, learn what a number is, learn about shapes and patterns, measure, sort, categorize, and compare objects. In addition, playing with puzzles, building toys, blocks, and games helps your preschooler practice and build math skills as they count, manipulate objects, and work with different shapes, spaces, and sizes.

Since my boys were small, I've tried to incorporate math concepts and math language into our everyday conversations, play, and routines. As we all know, understanding numbers and mathematical concepts is critical for kids to succeed in school and in life. So, I've tried to integrate thinking and talking about numbers, geometry, measurements, money, and a myriad of other math concepts into our family life on a regular basis.

Here are some simple ways you can show your preschooler that math is everywhere and create playful math moments in everything you do!

1. Count in a fun and active way: Count steps as you climb them, count as your child jumps, count objects as you buy them in a store, count snack items as you add them to your child's snack plate. Count everything. Here are a few ways to slip math into a walk around the block!

2. Play games that build math skills. Playing with dice, counting spaces on a game board, and playing card games all tap into early math thinking. Try Chutes and Ladders, Hi Ho Cherry-O (a favorite of mine when I was a kid – and a favorite of my boys when they were small!), Go Fish, and Count Your Chickens. All are perfect games for preschoolers.

3. Provide your preschooler with plenty of free play opportunities to use building materials and crafts. Let your little one play with blocks, straws, sticks, and other objects and building and craft materials to make shapes and create color or shape patterns. Ask him simple questions about what he is making and building. Help him to see patterns. Ask him, "How many blocks did it take to build that tower?" Show him how to "measure" the height of a tower by counting the number of blocks. "It's 12 blocks high!" Compare two towers side by side and ask, "Which one is higher?"

4. Sorting fun: Ask kids to sort objects into different shapes and color groups.  Use household items, toys, buttons, etc.  "Let's find all of the objects that are blue and put them in the basket. Let's group all of the objects that are square."  "Let's put all the toy cars in this bin and all the toy mini-figures in this bin. Which bin has more?" Give little ones lots of opportunities to look at, find, and sort objects based on different attributes – shape, color, size, type, etc.

5. Make shape collages: Make collages or books of objects that are different shapes and colors. Example: "My Circle Book" – cut out pictures of things that are circular and put one on each page and name it.

6. Make number books: Make your own counting book. Each page can have a number and that number of objects. Use drawings, photographs, magazine clippings, or actual objects (buttons, small toys, etc.).

7. Cook together: Making a meal or even a batch of cookies or banana bread together shows kids that we use math to cook. As you measure individual ingredients, talk out loud to your child about what and how you are measuring, show him what the quantities look like, and get him actively involved. Example:  "This recipe calls for 2 eggs. Can you get 2 eggs out of the carton? Let's crack and add them to the bowl.  We also need 1 and a half cups of milk. Let's measure that amount in this measuring cup. First let's find the 1-cup mark…now let's find/add another half." As you talk through the recipe, show him the markers and measures and let him pour and stir – and of course a lick of the spoon at the end is a must!

8. Build math into everyday conversations: For preschoolers, it might include asking questions or making statements like:
•    How much do you think these apples weigh?  Let's weigh them together.
•    Which of these two containers do you think will fit more of the pasta noodles?
•    I love all of the different shapes in that painting / picture. Can you help me find all of the circles? Rectangles? Squares?
•    Let's look at the calendar and see what day it is today. Oh, look, it is Friday, September 19th . How many days are in each week? Let's count. In September? Let's count them.
•    Let's divide up the cookies so each of us gets an equal amount. Can you help me?
•    Who is taller – you or your brother? Let's measure to find out.
•    How many LEGO bricks do we need to put together to build a tower as tall as you? As me?
•    Can you help me count the pennies in our penny jar? Let's put them into groups of 10 together.
•    How many more goldfish crackers do you have than me?
•    Let's count how many blue and red cars we pass while driving? How many are blue? How many are red? What color had more cars on the road while we drove?

9. Read number and counting books together: Find books that offer little ones opportunities to count along in the pages of the book.  Exposure to books with numbers helps your preschooler build number recognition and counting skills – and it's fun to cuddle and count together!  Some favorites include:
•    I Spy Little Numbers by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo
•    Ten Little Fish by Audrey Wood
•    Ten Tiny Toes by Caroline Jayne Church
•    Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss
•    How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? by Jane Yolen

Here are some more activities that incorporate math into everyday fun:
Shape-based Art Activity
Grocery Store Math
Math in the Car
Counting Towers Building Activity
Bead Counting Craft Activity

How do you build math talk and play into your everyday routines with your little one?  We'd love to know. Share your ideas with us on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page and let's continue the conversation!

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