One day, my young daughter was in her car seat in the back seat of the car when she asked “Mommy, how much is 198 and 27?” I glanced in the rear view mirror to make sure it was my preschool daughter asking this question. I had been asking her these types of math questions while playing. Little did I realize how much I had been teaching math through play!
I have to admit, I had to take a few minutes to calculate this in my head while driving. I asked her what she thought it was, and she quickly came back with the answer before I had time to calculate. My daughter was not a child prodigy, but through many math activities for preschoolers, she had been learning math concepts without even trying!
You may be wondering…
- What are some math activities for preschoolers?
- How do you teach math to a preschooler?
- What math activities are appropriate for a preschooler?
- What are some math activities for 3 year olds?
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Why Should You Teach Math Through Play for Preschoolers
Teaching math through play is one of the easiest ways to integrate math concepts, language, and vocabulary into your child’s learning without them realizing they are learning. A young child learns thousands of things every day. They are learning vocabulary, facts, voice inflections, and more, all while playing and interacting with the world around them.
Whether you are looking for math activities for 3 year olds, math activities for 3-5 year olds, or math activities for kindergarten and beyond, these ideas will spark expandable opportunities to learn and grow with your child – all while playing.
If you’d like to learn more about play-based learning, You can read more here: Learning through Play – Capturing Teachable Moments with Young Children.
Simple Ways to Include Math Activities for Preschoolers
Here is a big list of math activities for parents to do at home. These activities are easy to incorporate into your play-time and the only limit is your child’s interest and your creativity.
- Use math words when you are playing games. “If I have two Uno cards and I have to draw 4 more, how many cards do I have in all.” “If I give you four carrots and you eat one, how many carrots do you have left?”
- Create math word stories when you and your children are playing with toys. Encourage them to count, add, subtract, and notice groups and patterns. “How many blue cars do you have? How many red cars? Do you have more yellow cars?”
- Counting and skip counting. Count the steps from one place to another. Skip count when jumping rope “2, 4, 6, 8,” etc. Memorizing skip counting through music – counting by a specific number such as 3. For example 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. This will give your child a huge head start on multiplication and division without even realizing that’s what they are doing.
- Measure things around the house. Compare heights and lengths when you are building with blocks, or Legos. Measure things with your hands, with a ruler, with a little car. Talk about the difference between two things. “Which one is bigger or longer? Which one is shorter or smaller? Which car is faster? Which stack of Legos is taller?” etc.
You can begin using these math activities for 3-5-year-olds as soon as your child is old enough to understand what you are asking. They may not know the specific words, but they love to mimic the things they see around them. Don’t be afraid to invite your child to play-act the things they observe you doing.
- Play store. Open up the pantry door and give your child some stickers. Add “price tags” to the cans and boxes and then open up your store for customers. If your child doesn’t have play money, cut some strips of paper to resemble the dollars. You probably have a “credit card” from some junk mail offer that they can also use to play with. You may want to start without the credit card option so you can practice giving money and getting change back with your child. Take turns being the shopper, the storekeeper, cashier, and stocker. TIP: This is a great way to get help with putting your groceries away after shopping!
- Menu planning. As your children get older, they can help with planning a menu and going shopping. Teach them the foods in the different food groups when you are planning a menu together. “What kind of vegetable are we going to have with our potatoes?”
- Use grocery ads to help them put together a budget for the meal and then actually go shopping. Coupons are a great way to add subtraction into your math lessons as well.
- Set the table. An important part of math is learning left and right. Your child will need this for creating graphs, following a map, tracking, and charting in math. Fork on the left, spoon, and knife on the right of the plate. (Fork and left have 4 letters, spoon, knife, and right have 5 letters.)
Many math activities for 3 years olds can be stretched and expanded upon to grow with your child. Those basic terms, vocabulary words, and concepts will grow as your child learns more. Just as math in a textbook progresses, your child will learn more as you integrate math conversations into your play-time.
- Calendars. Encourage your child to help you use a calendar to count days until an event, practice days of the week, months of the year, and recording family events and special days.
- Sorting. This is a concept that is easily adaptable to many playtime activities. Encourage sorting by color, size, smallest to largest, shape, etc. This helps children with patterns, identifying the size, color, and shape. They may come up with their own categories to sort things into.
- Encourage your child to make predictions. “Do you think there are more red cars or blue cars? Why?” “is your teddy bear longer than the dog or shorter?” Count and compare your answer to the prediction.
- String beads or buttons on a pipe cleaner, shoelace, or string. Talk about patterns in colors, shapes, and sizes. This also encourages fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. Look at patterns and change them up. “Can you put one red button, two blue buttons, and then three yellow buttons on the string? What will come next?”
Take advantage of your child’s natural interest in life around them. Use these opportunities to explore and learn. You don’t always have to plan math activities for preschool children, you just need to watch for opportunities to layer the learning into the conversation and play.
- Use a magnifying glass and look at things up close. Insects, bark, grass, flower petals, etc. Look for the repeating patterns and symmetry of a leaf, a blade of grass, a feather, or flower petals.
- Look for shapes in nature. Triangle-shaped fern leaves, round flower petals, oval wasp nests, etc.
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt with your child and collect things to make a craft. Collect things that are different colors, or textures.
- Measure the rain with a rain gauge. Measure the snow depth.
- Keep track of the weather and note it on a calendar. Help your child identify the seasons and what is different and what is the same about each season. Use this information to create a chart of how many days of sunshine vs. rain in a week or a month. You can also use this information to build word problems such as “in the last seven days, how many days had rain?”
- Plant seeds and watch them sprout. Use graph paper and map your garden area. Look at the seed packets and determine how close or far apart your plants need to be. (Peas and radishes are great to plant and watch them grow because they sprout and grow quickly.)
- Involve your child with cooking and baking. Talk about heat, measurements, liquids, solids, and how they react to heat and cold. Double a recipe and use those fraction-adding skills. Make half a batch of cookies and practice dividing the fractions. Teach your child to slice bread, cut a pizza, divide out the cookies, pour the juice and encourage them to explore quantities and fractions.
Math Activities for Parents to do at Home
Another great way to include math activities for 3-5-year-olds or older children as well is to play games and do puzzles together. Whether your child is 3 or 13, they will probably still enjoy playing games with you if you build that relationship-building time when they are young.
- Lauri puzzles – these are THE best puzzles! (hand-eye coordination, predicting, matching)
- Tray puzzles (hand-eye coordination, predicting, matching)
- Puzzle books (predicting, matching, fine-motor skills, thinking, and logic)
- What’s Different books (comparing/contrasting, matching/different)
- Brain teasers (predicting, thinking and logic)
- Shape Blocks (shapes, colors, magnets, patterns)
- Tangrams (patterns, predicting, shapes, colors, matching)
- Tracing shapes (fine motor skills, holding a pencil, creating a larger picture from smaller shapes)
- Playdough (hand-eye coordination, creating, imagination, story-telling, fractions, addition, subtraction)
You may already be doing some of these math activities for preschoolers with your child and that is wonderful! Your child is on the road to success because you are looking for ways to encourage their learning. I’m proud of you! Write down a few new ideas and add to them each week.
Enjoy the journey of teaching your child new things and setting them up for success! Enjoy teaching math through play with some of these math activities for parents to do at home.
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