9 easy, everyday ways to practise math concepts at home with your preschooler

Forget about flash cards and repetitive counting. Math for preschool kids can be an as simple as playing in the tub or helping to set the table.

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Discussing math at home doesn’t have to be intimidating or anxiety-provoking. You can find plenty of places and situations around the house where math skills can be introduced.

In the kitchen:

1. Give everyone at the table a few pieces of food, such as crackers or carrots. Ask each child to count the items in his pile. Ask: “Did everyone get an equal, or the same, amount? If not, how many pieces do you need to add to each pile to make them all the same?”

Girl learning science. 5 ways to help develop STEM skills from a young age 2. Explore parts of a whole together, a step toward understanding division, as well as the idea of sharing. As you share a sandwich, say, “I’m cutting the sandwich in half so we each get one piece.” Or ask, “If there are three pieces of bread and six of us who want some, what can we do?”

In the bathroom:

3. Use different sizes and shapes of plastic cups and measuring cups to play with in the bath and to compare amounts. With younger kids, simply explore the concepts of “full” and “empty” by filling up cups and pouring them out together. Challenge older kids to predict which cup will hold the most water and which will hold the least before pouring water into each cup.

4. Play “Sink and Float” in the bathtub by testing a variety of bath items: a bar of soap, a rubber ducky, a toy car, a dry sponge, empty and full small plastic travel bottles, and bath books. Once you discover which items float and which ones sink, place the items in two separate containers, and then, together, count how many float, and how many sink.

In the bedroom:

5. Look at picture books together to find familiar shapes. Rotate the book and point out that the shapes are still the same shapes—no matter which way the book faces. Count the number of sides and angles that make a shape a unique shape.

6. As kids lie in bed, play “I Spy” together, using words like “under,” “over,” “next to,” and “behind.” Clue each other in as to what you spy by describing where an object is. You might say, “I spy something under the clock” or “I spy something next to the bookshelf.” Take turns!

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In the dining room: 

7. The simple act of setting the table offers many ways for children to learn basic math concepts. One-to-one correspondence, an essential math skill, is a perfect example. Ask your child to count how many people will be sitting at the table. Then have her get out the same number of plates, spoons, glasses, and so on—one for each person. You might even hand a child three spoons, and then ask, “Do you need more spoons?”

8. Patterning can also be learned while setting the table for dinner. You can offer a model for a place setting (fork on the left, plate in the middle, spoon on the right, etc.), then let your child repeat the pattern with each place setting. You will need to establish the patterns by laying at least two place settings.

9. Ask, “What is different? What is the same?” Compare spoons (serving spoon to a soup spoon to a teaspoon), plates (serving platters, dinner plates, dessert plates), glasses (sizes, shapes), or any other items.

Reprinted with permission from Sesame Street: Ready for School!: A Parent’s Guide to Playful Learning for Children Ages 2 to 5 © 2019 by Rosemarie T. Truglio PhD with Pamela Thomas, Running Press.

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