Math matters today, more than ever; it isn’t just about teaching your child to count.

Teaching math skills to preschoolers can be accomplished through everyday interaction and play.

We teach math to toddlers when we count steps as they climb. Photo credit: Pixabay.
We teach math to toddlers when we count steps as they climb. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Math is everywhere! Babies are exposed to a math concept the first time we count their five little toes on each foot out loud. We are teaching math when we ask a growing infant if they want “more” milk, saying that the cookies are “all gone” and sorting big beads with children by color or shape.

With toddlers we talk about how much they’ve grown, ask if they need a second helping of macaroni and cheese, or count the steps as we climb the stairs. Two-year-olds are beginning to use words to describe the size and location of things; bigger, under, little.

Preschoolers have been exposed to math concepts for years. Three-year-olds begin counting with crackers or cereal; they fit pieces into puzzles and start recognizing shapes. Four-year-olds love to play games where they can spin to a number and move game pieces forward. They are adept at matching shapes in puzzles and can describe things that are the same and different.

Most young children have traditionally learned basic math skills through the language that adults use and through exploration of their world. Michigan State University Extension says that the No Child Left Behind Act dictated a change in math programs in our early elementary schools where reading has been the focus for years. Today very young children in organized preschool programs are being exposed to math programs as part of overall educational instruction. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) have adopted a joint position statement recognizing the importance of good beginnings tied to mathematics education. Parents are a child’s first teacher and have the unique opportunity to set a foundation for learning math skills through their everyday interactions with their children. Building this foundation can be critical for young children as they begin preschool and prepare for academic success.

Most young children are interested in their world around them. It is easy to expand their math learning opportunities through your everyday interactions. Begin counting early. There are many nursery rhymes and finger plays that children love and enjoy repeating. Snack time provides a great setting for beginning math. Line up snacks and count them as you place them on the high chair tray. Talk about how the first cracker begins the straight line and others follow in the line. You can introduce patterns by having two cheerios in the line followed by one oyster cracker, and so on.

Discuss the shape of signs as you drive to the store or Grandma’s house. Sort puzzle pieces by color and shape; sort socks, mittens and gloves into pairs, fold washcloths into quarters, discuss the size of bowls that can be used for cereal (big, bigger, and biggest). Play, play, play as you discover that nearly everything you do and say to your preschool child probably involves math concepts. Incorporate everyday objects into your play. Explore the many different aspects of math as you explore simple games and activities to help your child learn. Don’t forget to incorporate books about numbers into your day or bedtime story routine. Explore your local library for some book suggestions that are age-appropriate for your child. Story stretchers are available online at eXtension and have lots of creative ideas for incorporating math skills into your child’s reading adventure. Math matters and exploring and nurturing math concepts will add up to big dividends for your child’s academic success!

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