Helping Your Young Child Learn Math at Home

Math is everywhere and yet we may not recognize it because it doesn’t look like the math we did in school. Math in the world around us sometimes seems invisible. But math is present in our world all the time – in the workplace, in our homes, and in life in general.

You Can Do It!

If you feel uncomfortable about math, here are some ideas to think about.

Math is a very important skill, one which we will all need for the future in our technological world. It is important for you to encourage your children to think of themselves as mathematicians who can reason and solve problems.

Math is a subject for all people. Math is not a subject that men can do better than women. Males and females have equally strong potential in math.

Positive attitudes about math are important for our country. The United States is the only advanced industrial nation where people are quick to admit that “I am not good in math.” We need to change this attitude, because mathematicians are a key to our future.

The Basics

You may have noticed that we are talking about “mathematics” – the subject that incorporates numbers, shapes, patterns, estimation, and measurement, and the concepts that relate to them. You probably remember studying “arithmetic” – adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing – when you were in elementary school. Now, children are starting right away to learn about the broad ideas associated with math, including problem solving, communicating mathematically, and reasoning.

Just by doing everyday things together such as sorting socks on laundry day, cooking with measuring and pouring or playing games or singing songs with actions and directions with rules and taking turns will help your child learn to count and understand a range of mathematical ideas.

“Mathematical foundations are laid as playmates create streets and buildings in the sand or make play houses with empty boxes. Mathematical ideas grow as children count steps across the room or sort collections of rocks and other treasures. They learn mathematical concepts through everyday activities: sorting (putting toys or groceries away), reasoning (comparing and building with blocks), representing (drawing to record ideas), recognizing patterns (talking about daily routines, repeating nursery rhymes, and reading predictable books), following directions (singing motion songs such as ?Hokey Pokey’), and using spatial visualization (working puzzles). Using objects, role-playing, drawing, and counting, children show what they know.”

Below are three activities that provide opportunities for your child to experiment with measurement, sort and count items by different attributes, and learn to recognize coins.

FILL IT UP (Activity #1)

Children enjoy exploring measurement and estimation. Empty containers can provide opportunities to explore comparisons, measurement, estimation, and geometry.

What You’ll Need

• Empty containers in different shapes (yogurt cups, margarine tubs, juice boxes with tops cut off, pie tins)
• Rice, popcorn kernels, or water or sand
• Markers
• Masking tape
• Paper

What to do

1. Have your child choose an empty container each day and label it for the day by writing the day on a piece of masking tape and sticking it on the container.

2. Discover which containers hold more than, less than, or the same as the container chosen for that day by:

• filling the day’s container with water, uncooked rice, or popcorn kernels; and
• pouring the substance from that container into another one. Is the container full, not full, or overflowing? Ask your child, “Does this mean the second container holds more than the first, less, or the same?”

3. Ask your child questions to encourage comparison, estimation, and thinking about measurement.

4. Put all the containers that hold more in one spot, those that hold less in another, and those that hold the same in yet another. Label the areas “more” “less” and “the same.”

5. After the containers have been sorted, ask, “Do we have more containers that hold more, hold less, or hold the same? How many containers are in each category?”

NAME THAT COIN (Activity #2)

Children love to look at coins but sometimes cannot identify the coins or determine their value.

What You’ll Need


What to Do

1. Look at the coins and talk about what color they are, the pictures on them, and what they are worth.

2. Put a penny, nickel, and dime on the floor or table.

3. Tell your child that you are thinking of a coin.

4. Give your child hints to figure out which coin you are thinking of. For example, “My coin has a man on one side, a building on the other.”

5. Let your child think about what you have sad by looking at the coins.

6. Ask, “Can you make a guess? ”

7. Add another clue: “My coin is silver.”

8. Keep giving clues until your child guesses the coin.

9. Add the quarter to the coins on the table and continue the game.

10. Have your child give you clues for you to guess the coin.

TREASURE HUNT (Activity #3)

Everyone’s house has hidden treasures. There is a lot of math you and your child can do with them.

What You’ll Need

Bottle caps
Old keys
Or anything else you can count

What To Do

1. Find a container to hold the treasures.
2. Sort and classify the treasures. For example, do you have all the same sized screws or keys? How are they alike? How are they different?
3. Organize the treasures by one characteristic and lay them end-to-end. Talk about their characteristics.

Math books for children:

Almost every book you read with your child will offer the opportunity to talk about math, because math is everywhere. Some books lend themselves more to in-depth and specific math discussion. Only a fraction of these books could be listed here.

Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Counting Book. Thomas Y. Crowell.
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Counting House. Philomel Books.
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Hat Trick. Philomel Books.
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Math Games. Philomel Books.
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar. Philomel Books.
Carle, Eric. The Grouchy Ladybug. Philomel Books.
Carle, Eric. 1,2,3 to the Zoo. Philomel Books. Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Philomel Books.
Carter, David. How Many Bugs in a Box? Simon and Schuster.
Cobb, Vicki and Kathy Darling. Bet You Can. Avon.
Conran, Sebastian. My First 123 Book. Aladdin Books.
Daly, Eileen. 1 Is Red. Western.
Dee, Ruby. Two Ways to Count to Ten. Holt.
Demi. Demi's Count the Animals' 123. Grosset and Dunlap.
Feelings, Muriel. Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book. Dial.
Grayson, Marion. Let's Count. Robert B. Luce, Inc.
Grayson, Marion. Count Out. Robert B. Luce, Inc.
Hoban, Tana. Circles, Triangles, and Squares. MacMillan Publishing Company, Inc.
Hoban, Tana. Count and See. Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.
Hoban, Tana. Is It Rough, Is It Smooth, Is It Bumpy? Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.
Hudson, Cheryl. AfrD"'Bets 123 Book. Just Us Productions.
Hutchins, Pat. 11w Doorbell Rang. Greenwillow Books.
Hutchins, Pat. One Hunter. Greenwillow Books.
Jones, Carol. This Old Man. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Keats, Ezra Jack Over in the Meadow. Scholastic.
Kitchen, Bert. Animal Numbers. Dial.
Kredenser, Gail. One Dancing Drum. Phillips.
Lionni, Leo. Numbers To Talk About. Pantheon Books.
Marley, Deborah. Animals One to Ten. Raintree.
McMillan, Bruce. Counting Wildflowers. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, Inc.
McMillan, Bruce. One, Two, One Pair. Scholastic.
Nolan, Dennis. Monster Bubbles. Prentice Hall.
Pluckrose, Henry. Know about Counting. Franklin Watts.
Pomerantz, Charlotte. The Half-Birthday Party. Clarion Books.
Ross, H.L. Not Counting Monsters. Platt and Munk.
Schwartz, David M. How Much Is a Million? Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, Inc.
Schwartz, David M. If You Made a Million. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, Inc.
Tafuri, Nancy. Who's Counting? William Morrow &Co.
Testa, Fulvio. If You Take a Pencil. Dial.
Viorst, Judith. Alexander Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday. Atheneum.
Vogel, Ilse-Margret. 1 Is No Fun, But 20 Is Plenty! Atheneum.
Ziefert, Harriet. A Dozen Dizzy Dogs. Random House.

(Activities and Booklists) from Helping Your Child Learn Math by Patsy F. Kauter, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement)