It doesn’t take much extra time to point out shapes, numbers or patterns that surround you as you go through the day. Many of these activities can be done at the kitchen table as dinner is being prepared. The important thing is to include some type of “math talk." Tell each other how you solved a problem or how you came up with a certain answer. The child needs to understand that there may be different ways to come up with the right answer.
Educators hope that many kindergarten students going into first grade will be able to count to 100, so take every opportunity to count things and make it fun.
Use a deck of playing cards without the face cards. Place the cards face down between you and your child. Use paperclips, pennies or plastic chips as counters. One person chooses a card and counts out that number of items and keeps them. The other person does the same. Do this one more time. Then each person counts what he or she has. Who has more?
Add movement to the counting! For example, say, “Before you take a bath hop exactly seven times."
When you are out and about with your child, ask him to count things. How many people are ahead of us in line? How many blue cars in the parking lot? How many hamburger buns are in the package?
Ask your child to set the table. How many forks do we need? How many plates? Ask your child to place the items on the table so that each person has the right things. (That may seem easy but some children have trouble with this task.)
When you are driving, start with a number and ask your child to keep counting on from that number. Try to count higher each time with your help.
Take turns counting: You say, “One" the child says, “Two" and so on.
Use uncooked noodles such as rotini or penne. On a big piece of paper, designate a number. Let’s say the number is seven. Use seven noodles to make a design. Draw a circle around it. Use seven more noodles to make a different design and draw a circle around it. Continue until the paper is filled with groups of seven. Point out to your child that, no matter what it looks like, all the designs still contain seven noodles.
Writing and Recognizing Numbers
On a hot summer day, take a bucket of water and a paintbrush outside. Say a number and ask your child to paint it on the patio, sidewalk or driveway.
Use play dough to make numbers.
Provide old magazines and newspapers and ask your child to help you find a specific number and cut it out. Gather all the cutouts and glue them on a piece of construction paper. Keep repeating the number as you look for it.
Pour some sand or salt in a flat baking pan with sides. Say a number and ask your child to draw it with his index finger as he says the number.
Use a plastic tablecloth on your table. Use spray whipped cream or pudding and ask your child to spread it on a small area of the table and write numbers in the area.
This activity will create some giggles and laughter! Lay on the floor (yes, both of you) and try to make numbers with your body. You will have to work together to make some of them!
Use the playing cards (without the face cards) to put the numbers in order.
Play the old game of War with the cards. Each of you turns over a card. Which number is smaller or less than the other?
Have a “Shape of the Day." See how many you can find of the assigned shape. Start with the easy ones: circle, square, triangle, rectangle then advance to a hexagon and octagon. Turn your child into a detective: Is the clock a circle? Is the table a square? Search the house.
Use old newspapers and magazines to cut out pictures of the “Shape of the Day." Glue the pictures on a large piece of paper.
Find two items that are the same shape but are different sizes. Which one is smaller? Then try three or four items. Which is smaller? Smallest, Bigger? Biggest?
Patterns and Attributes
Use different colors of checkers or poker chips. Take six chips and lay them on the table in a row and in a pattern. Perhaps your choice is red, blue, red, blue, red. Ask your child to describe the pattern. What color chip comes next? Continue with harder patterns.
Create a pattern with numbers. It could be: 1,1,2,2,3,3,4,_____. What comes next?
Gather buttons, coins, keys or screws. Let’s say you use buttons. Ask your child to compare the buttons. How are they alike? Different? Sort them into groups. Did you group them by size? Color? Number of holes?
Can you find patterns around the house? Maybe on a quilt or some wallpaper.
Create a pattern by clapping and patting your head. Can your child copy the pattern?
Addition and Subtraction
Take a walk and say, “Let’s see if we can find five birds today." At first you may see two birds and then another. You can say, “We saw two birds and then one more. How many have we seen? How many more until we have seen five birds." You can do the same with cars driving by, dogs, brick houses or whatever fits your neighborhood.
While you are preparing a meal you can say, “How many sandwiches do we need? I have two ready and I am making two more. How many is that? Do I have enough?"
Use goldfish crackers and draw a circle on a piece of paper. Put three fish in the circle. Say, “There are three fish in the pond (the circle). Two more fish swim in. How many fish do I have now?" Ask your child to tell a similar story.
Put a pile of pennies in the center of the table. Give your child and yourself a piece of paper. On each piece of paper, draw ten small circles. Take turns rolling a dice. Let’s say your child rolls a four. Then she places a penny in each of four circles. When it is her turn again, she rolls a one. As she places one penny in the circle say, “One penny added to four pennies makes five pennies. How many more do we need?" Continue until someone fills all ten circles.
Put five pennies in your child’s hand. Say, “How many pennies do you have? Now close your eyes tight. I’m going to make a change." You can add or take away pennies. Now say, “Open your eyes. Did something change? Do you have more or less?" Let’s say you added two pennies. You might say, “You started with five pennies and I added two. Now you have seven."
Cooking is a great time to do liquid measurements. Ask your child to pour an ingredient into a recipe from a measuring cup. Make sure you tell them, “This is one cup or this is 1/2 cup, etc."
Use old measuring cups in a small backyard pool or bucket of water. Include some other random containers such as plastic bowls. Which measuring cup holds more? How many cups of water does it take to fill a bowl? How many 1/2 cups does it take?
For measuring length cut two pieces of string of different lengths. Use the string as a measuring tool. You have one string and your child has the other. Explore the house for things the length of your strings.
Guess how many hops it takes to get from one place to another.
Make It Fun and Memorable
Take these ideas and continue on, coming up with your own entertaining math activities. You and your child may enjoy them so much that you continue throughout the year, learning and making memories together.
Dodds,Dayle Ann. The Shape of Things. Candlewick Press, 1996.
McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal. Viking, 1948.
Myller, Rolf. How Big is a Foot? Young Yearling Book, 1991.
Lionni, Leo. Inch by Inch. Harper Collins, 1995.
Aker, Suzanne. What Comes in 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s? Simon and Schuster, 1990.
- Kaye, Peggy. Games for Math. Pantheon Books, 1987.
- Leuenberger, Constance. Teaching Early Math Skills with Favorite Picture Books. Scholastic, 2007.