Math is more than just addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. Most math skills are so intuitive to adults that you might not even think of them as belonging to the same category as algebra or trigonometry. Kids start learning math much earlier than you might think. You can start teaching your child the fundamentals of math almost from the day he or she is born.
Even the youngest child understands some of the core concepts of math. Infants thrive on routine. They seek patterns in their everyday lives. Regular routines of sleeping, waking, and feeding set the foundation for a lifetime of math essentials. As your child gets older, recognize that math occurs naturally in many types of play. Stacking rings by size is a form of sequencing. Dividing objects by shape or color is sorting. Placing one box inside another builds awareness of size and space.
Toddlers have a wonderful time learning early math skills. You can begin exploring concepts such as big, small, one, and many. Place toys over, under, or next to each other. Pour water or sand from one container to another as you tackle the concept of volume. Size, shape, and color all come into play with most toddler toys, from blocks to the play kitchen.
Start counting with your toddlers to get them familiar with core number concepts. Sing counting songs. Count your steps, hops, or leaps on the playground. Count fingers and toes. Count the stuffed animals on the bed or the blocks in the box. Repetitive and consistent, these numbers will soon become recognizable.
Between the ages of 3 and 5, children will become much more familiar with the numbers in their environment. They'll start to recognize numbers written on paper, and by age 5 they'll be writing many of these numbers on their own. Don't be alarmed when numbers show up backward. This is perfectly normal for children in this stage.
You'll find a wealth of counting books at the library or your local book store. Read these voraciously. Not only will they help your child recognize written numbers but they'll also help with sequence and make counting a fun-filled adventure. Remember that math is still all about play. Make patterns in your craft projects, identify items that are the same or different, and explore intriguing comparisons between sizes and quantities in the world around you.
Early Elementary Math
Elementary school is when math slowly transitions from the world of songs, rhymes, and toys to one with pencils, and papers. Between the ages of 5 and 7, your child will start working on simple addition and subtraction problems and basic fractions. Money and time will suddenly have concrete meanings. Counting by ones transitions into skip counting by twos, tens and fives.
This is when many children start to struggle with math because it can become more of a chore than a game. Pursue playful math anywhere you can. Incorporate family game night, and pull out board games with money or dice, which incorporate math naturally. Play card games such as War. Something like baking cookies can offer a fun way to practice math as you measure ingredients or halve a recipe.
For a closer look at other math activities you can do with your children, see the brochure, “Math Tips for Parents Grades K-5”, available at your local Mathnasium Learning Center.