Being a mom, I've experienced firsthand that preparing your child for school can be difficult. Math skills specifically are emphasized when it comes to higher education later on and are essential for everyday life. Some kids enjoy playing and learning with numbers, while for others it’s a chore.
We’ve been looking into fun activities to promote math skills for our children, so they have a head start when going to school.
What About Math?
Math is not just about counting and calculating. We have computers and sophisticated calculators that can work out the most complex math manipulation. But machines can’t think, reason and analyze like humans.
Even Artificial Intelligence isn’t able to include morals or values, unless programmed to. When learning math, we learn the process of analyzing.
Analytical thinking is the ability to think critically. Reasoning is the ability to use logic. Both skills are essential in learning how to solve problems and when looking for solutions.
The earlier you start teaching your children how to apply some of these skills, the better they will be prepared for more complex situations later on.
Math Isn’t Just About Numbers
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of math will be numbers. Though ‘number sense’ is an important skill, there is way more to math than just that.
Also, the assumption that math is only important when it comes to studying scientific issues is false. There are multiple different subjects and fields that use math one way or another
The general subject of math includes:
- Number sense: Being able to count and to see various relationships between numbers—for example, when adding and subtracting.
- Representation: Giving mathematical ideas real-life-value by using objects, pictures, words, or symbols.
- Spatial sense: Also called geometry; the ideas of shapes, size, position, direction, and movement.
- Measurement: Finding the length, height, weight of objects, or measuring time.
- Estimation: The ability to make a good guess about the size or amount of something.
- Patterns: Numbers, shapes, or images that repeat in a logical way.
- Problem-solving: Using past knowledge and logical thinking skills to find an answer.
Math Doesn’t Have to Be Boring
Despite how fundamental math is to the environment around us, it has a negative connotation. It involves numbers and complex calculations that many people think they will never use in real life. But learning math doesn’t have to be boring.
Before starting school, most children develop an understanding of basic concepts of addition and subtraction through daily activities. There are many playful math activities to choose from, where learning the basics of math feels like fun.
Games and Activities Related to Number Sense
Sort and Count
Make a bowling set out of cardboard tubes and have your child knock them over with a soft ball. Then count the ones that are still standing and the ones that have fallen over. Introduce the concept of adding and subtracting according to your child’s age or level of understanding.
Make a Call
Explain to your child that every house or person has a phone number. Have them dial the number of someone they would like to speak to for number recognition and position.
How Many Are Left? (For Younger Children)
This game is a great tool to help develop the skills children need in doing additions or subtractions ‘in their head’. It helps children to imagine a number of objects.
- Place several smaller objects on a tray; beads, coins, buttons or pebbles.
- Show each child the objects and count them out loud together.
- Cover the objects with a piece of fabric and slide your hand under it to remove one or two.
- Show the kids how many objects you have removed and ask, “How many items are left on the tray?”.
- When they become more confident, you can introduce a larger number of objects on the tray.
Have your child put a designated number of oranges or apples in your grocery bag when shopping, or have them count the number of buttons on a shirt as you close them. Point out numbers in the street and have them count your money—the everyday tasks are endless.
Games and Activities Related to Representation
Ask your child to choose an animal from his toys for each family member and have them explain why each animal represents that member.
Ask your child to count the number of family members, or have them set the table with enough plates and cutlery out for everyone.
Games and Activities Related to Spatial Sense
How Big Is It?
Ask your child to point out objects around and sort them by size. Another option would be to estimate his or her own size compared to random objects. Ask if they fit under the chair or in that box, or if that toy fits inside their pocket.
Play an easy game of finding basic shapes in the environment, such as rectangles in tables, squares in window frames, circles in lamps, and so on. You can ask them to explain how they recognize each shape by their characteristics (a rectangle has four sides and right angles, where two sides are longer than the other two) and non-defining characteristics (such as the size or position of the rectangle).
When reading a storybook with pictures, use spatial language to ask questions about the position of objects in the picture. “Where is the sun? Is it above the umbrella, or is it under the umbrella?” Or ask about size related to another object by asking, “Is the mouse bigger than the elephant? Which animal is bigger/smaller?”
Games and Activities Related to Measurement and Estimation
Sense of Time
Use a stopwatch, hourglass, or any other timer when engaging in short (one to three minute) games or activities. It helps your child get a sense of time and to know some things take longer than others.
For instance, place chairs in a circle but have one chair less than the number of kids. Have them dance or walk around the chairs while you play music. Tell them after a certain amount of minutes the music will stop and they have to sit down. The child that misses out on sitting on a chair needs to leave the game.
Cook It Up!
Next time you’re cooking or baking, ask your child to help out! Even at a younger age, they can measure out the ingredients. Helping with these activities will help them learn about adding, measuring and estimating in a natural way.
Ask them to use measuring spoons or to fill measuring cups with any ingredient needed, to teach your kids about the concepts of whole numbers and fractions. Ask questions like "Can you fill one tablespoon? Can you fill half a cup?"
Next time you go shopping, ask your child which item is heavier. “Is the can of baked beans or the box of cookies heavier?” Children will learn the concept of weight, heaviness and lightness naturally this way.
Have your child compare the size of your feet and take out a tape measure or ruler to determine the actual size compared to their own. The concept of bigger and smaller in relation to numbers is easily introduced this way.
Games and Activities Related to Patterns
Patterns allow us to see an order in what might otherwise appear random. Understanding and being able to spot recurring patterns helps to develop the important skills of critical thinking and logic, by allowing us to make assumptions and educated guesses.
There are a number of ways to make patterns using:
- Sounds or rhythms
Ice Cube Tray Patterns
Give your children a variety of colored pom-poms to create patterns within an ice cube tray, like yellow, green, pink, yellow, green, pink.
Have your child create or memorize a pattern made of sounds, for example, clap, slap, stomp, clap, slap, stomp.
Size and Shape Patterns
Use a variety of shapes in different sizes and play around with patterns: small triangle, large circle, small square, large triangle. You can then ask younger children to create a new, opposite pattern based on the size of the first one: large triangle, small circle, large square, small triangle, etc. Older children can create a whole new pattern based on the old one: large square, small triangle, large circle, small square.
Make It Fun!
Math isn’t just about numbers and the subject improves the overall skills of analyzing and logical thinking. Children develop the basics of math naturally during everyday activities, if you remember to include them in normal activities in and around the house. You can add different game components to make it even more fun while they learn without realizing!