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You don’t need to have a degree in education or a classroom full of materials to teach your child important concepts in math. The best way for children to learn practical math concepts is to guide them in hands-on activities and games. And you can do this by using items already in your kitchen and other parts of the house!
Below are a few basic math concepts and a couple of ways you can deepen your children’s understanding of those concepts:
One-to-one correspondence: Even though your child may be able to count to a certain number out loud, they may not grasp the idea that, when counting objects, each object being counted represents one more. So if you ask a child to count five potatoes, they may count aloud to 10 because that’s what they know.
Have your child practice one-to-one correspondence by encouraging them to count pieces of veggies as you cut them. The child should touch each piece once as it is counted. Once your child is able to consistently perform this activity, you can try “counting on” with them. Give your child two carrots and have them count them. Then add three more carrots and see if your child can apply one-to-one correspondence by counting “three, four, five.” If your child restarts at one, they have not yet fully grasped the concept. That’s okay, just give them more practice.
Patterns: The ability to identify and create patterns not only supports a child’s mathematical growth, but also their social development. By understanding patterns, children are better able to predict what comes next.
Give your child three apples and three oranges and ask them to create a pattern. The easiest pattern to create is an AB pattern (apple, orange, apple, orange, etc.). Once the child is comfortable with this pattern, add in bananas for an ABC pattern (apple, orange, banana, apple, orange, banana, etc.). When it seems like your child has mastered the concept of patterns, ask them to make a different pattern, such as an AAB pattern (apple, apple, orange, apple, apple, orange, etc.) or an ABB pattern (apple, orange, orange, apple, orange, orange, etc.).
More or Less/Estimation: The ability to estimate and compare is called Number Sense Awareness. Number sense is an intuitive understanding of numbers that allows children to become more adept at mathematical problem-solving.
Provide three crackers for your child. Add a few crackers and ask if there are now more crackers, or less crackers. Now take some crackers away and ask if there are more or less. Continue to do this with different amounts and different items. Using a handful of a small items (i.e., chocolate chips or pretzels), ask your child to estimate (guess) how many there are in total. Then encourage them to count the items. Was their guess too high or too low?
Sorting: Sorting and classifying are problem-solving skills at the heart of mathematics. We encourage children’s ability to solve problems by offering strategies to help them organize their thinking.
Give your child an assortment of items, such as buttons, coins, paper clips, or beads. Ask them to make different piles, or sort them into groups. Don’t be too specific about how you want them sorted—then observe what your child does. Once they are finished, ask them why they sorted the objects the way they did. Then ask if they can think of another way to group them. They may sort the items by size once, and then by color. Allow your child the freedom to decide for themselves, and only offer suggestions if they are struggling.
Shapes: Identifying and exploring shapes is a foundational skill in geometry, a branch of mathematics.
You can use cookie cutters to cut out different shapes from food like fruit or tortillas. Encourage your child to put them in order from largest to smallest, have them make patterns, or use the shapes to make different objects.
Doing math in the home should be a fun, hands-on experience. By exposing your child to different concepts early, they are more likely to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.