Basic math skills may seem too abstract for toddlers or preschoolers to grasp, but you can actually help your little one to learn quite a bit about numbers, counting, geometry, and basic measurement by bringing these concepts down to earth. Making math accessible can be easy, as we use the simple components of mathematics in our everyday lives. Young children often learn by touching what is near them, watching closely as they work with objects of interest, and playing with toys. Bring math to their level and they’ll begin to develop an interest.

  1. Child with number magnetsCounting comes naturally to adults, and therefore, it can be a difficult skill for adults to teach children. Your child can’t rattle off his numbers as quickly as you can, so you need to slow it down a bit. You can get started with basic counting as early as 18 months. First, find something your child is interested in, like blueberries, Cheerios, or Lego figures. Then separate one from the bunch and point to it, indicating that it is “one” blueberry. Take another blueberry from the bunch and put it next to the first, indicating that now you have “two” blueberries. Count a third. Stop at three, and stick with counting just three blueberries for a few days, until your child seems to understand. Then work your way up to five blueberries. Then ten. With enough repetition, your child will be able to start counting with you.
  2. Playdough and cookie cutters are two great tools to have at your disposal when you’re teaching your child basic geometry. While simply pointing to shapes and naming them is easy, actually creating a new shape from a blank slate will really help your child understand that a particular shape takes a different form from an amorphous blob. Create squares and circles and triangles, and make shapes your child will love to see, like hearts and stars. Point out the roundness of the circle and the angles of the star. After you’ve done this exercise a few times with your child, you can start to point out objects in their environment that look like circles, squares, and hearts.
  3. Got a tape measure? You can begin to play games with your preschooler, measuring objects around the house to see what is bigger, smaller, longer, and shorter. First, make some guesses. Ask your child if the chair is taller than the table. Then, explain that when one object is taller than another, the number on the tape measure will be higher. Now you can measure! Ask your child to hold one end of the tape measure and stretch it to the length of the chair. Write down the number. Measure the table and write down the number. Your child may not know which number is higher, but that’s OK. You can help her understand that the height is the table is longer than the height of the chair. Another great way to demonstrate measurement is to ask your child to help you to measure volumes of flour, sugar, or milk when baking.  These concepts might not sink in immediately, and that’s OK. Repetition is the key. After a while, your child will understand that one cup contains more flour than a half cup and that six comes after five. Give her time, and keep it simple.