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3 simple ways to develop your child's early math skills

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It may be frustrating as a parent to count with your child if it goes something like this:

You ask your child to count how many goldfish he or she has on a napkin. Your child happily responds by pointing to goldfish one by one, counting seemingly accurate, until you hear “one, two, five, seven, ten.” Depending on your child’s age, say, 2, this may be acceptable to you. If your child is nearly 3, for example, you may have a puzzled look on your face as your child beams, having accomplished the task that you asked of him or her.

It is normal for young children to not have counting down to a science, and as a parent, it would be impractical to expect perfection. However, there are ways to assist young children in developing early math skills they will master with time and practice.

Here are 3 ways of using math concepts with your child without making it a chore:

Math skills
Math skills Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Math skills

1. Use quantity and counting in simple ways. Young children have a basic understanding of quantity as they ask for more food, juice, milk, etc. Parents can extend this understanding by helping children to make comparisons.

Are there more red Legos on the floor than blue ones? Point it out. Did you see many small cars on your way to school together compared to big trucks? Make a meaningful conversation out of it.

There is no right or wrong answer; you simply want to further build on the concept.

 Your child’s ability to compare quantity will enable a smooth transition to the concept of counting. Counting is not a concept that should be forced onto young children, but cleverly introduced and practiced.

You may, for example, go for family walks in your neighborhood. You can suggest counting the number of trees you pass as you are walking, how many times you see a bird on your walk, or anything that interests your child.

Measure, measure
Measure, measure Kristen Whitehurst

Measure, measure

2. Include your child in routine tasks that require measuring and counting. Some parents may not consider the usefulness of cooking with their child, but it is a great and costless way to practice math skills.

While you are preparing a meal, you can have your child help you measure ingredients using cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. and count at the same time. This allows them to practice counting in a fun way, while visually seeing the quantity of the measured ingredients.

Another great way to use counting is to include your child in setting the table. Helping you gives your child or children a job to do and allows them to use math skills in practical ways. Ask how many plates, forks, spoons, cups, etc. will be needed to set the table.

If a brother, sister, or person that is usually at dinner will not be home, you can begin to introduce subtraction by having your child set the table, remove a setting if necessary, and recount.   

Shapes outdoors
Shapes outdoors Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Shapes outdoors

3. Point out shapes and patterns seen in everyday objects. Learning shapes and patterns are basic early math concepts for young children. The key is finding subtle ways to teach them, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Shapes and patterns are all around us in the environment, so it makes sense that young children should begin to recognize them. Point out shapes in your child’s favorite foods, items around the house, and outside.

These can include everything from ice cream cones and pizza at birthday parties, to plates, doors and clocks in your home, to stop signs and wheels on the family car.

A great way to experiment with patterns is through art and body movements. You may notice a pattern on clothing and point that out, or show your child a simple red-blue-red-blue pattern while drawing.

Another way to introduce patterns is to spend time playing with your child. You can do a clap-stomp-clap-stomp movement together if your child gets restless throughout the day.

If you find that your child enjoys these movements, ask him or her to suggest other ways to make up new patterns using body parts.    

Remember, as your child gains an understanding of basic math concepts and can use counting, measuring, shapes and patterning in practical ways every day, the mastery of these skills will come. Keep things simple and conversational, and most of all, have fun!

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