Basic math skills learned at an early age provide the foundation for acquiring more advanced math skills later. Preschool children begin to develop math skills through play. Parents can facilitate this by choosing age-appropriate toys, games and activities that stimulate mathematical inquisitiveness.
Classic toys such as building blocks or shape sorters teach children about geometric shapes. Board games, such as “Chutes and Ladders,” reinforce the concept of one-to-one correspondence (counting each object once). Connect-the-dot puzzles reward numerical sequencing by revealing a hidden picture. Jigsaw puzzles invite problem solving with shapes, sizes and colors.
Songs such as “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” “This Old Man, He Played One” and “Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” help children practice their counting. A song such as “Bingo” helps children explore rhythm when they leave out an additional letter on each round.
While adults think about mathematics abstractly (45+60=105), young children understand mathematics tangibly: • • • • = 4. By using manipulatives – concrete objects that can be touched, counted and grouped – youngsters learn that numbers represent objects and that the number of objects can change (adding, subtracting, etc.).
For at-home activities, try taking beans, nuts or buttons to sort, count and lay in “sets” – relative to their size, color or other property (large to small, tall to short, few to many). Remember to work at your child’s ability level, so he or she won’t get frustrated or lose confidence.
Preschool children develop math concepts in a predictable sequence. The following is a general guide to this succession. (Girls tend to be three to six months ahead of boys at this stage.)
3-year-olds – Count 1-5, sort by size, learn numerals when matched to same number of objects, understand zero, recognize geometric shapes and know their names.
4-year-olds – Count 1-10, maybe 1-20; count by 10’s, then by 5’s, then by 2’s; begin to write numerals 0-9; fill in the missing number in a sequence; count several objects with one-to-one correspondence (counting each object once); and reproduce simple repeating patterns.
5-year-olds – Count 1-20, possibly 1-100; identify “greater than” and “less than” groups by sets; begin addition and subtraction; sequence “before and after” pictures; begin basic time and money concepts.
15 Fun Ways and Easy Games for Young Learners Math: Reproducible, Easy-to-Play Learning Games That Help Kids Build Essential Math Skills, by Susan Julio, Scholastic Professional, 2001.
Eenie Meenie Miney Math!: Math Play for You and Your Preschooler, by Linda Allison, Little Brown & Co., 1993.
Marshmallow Math: Early Math for Toddlers, Preschoolers and Primary School Children, by Trevor Schindeler, Trafford, 2002.