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Tips for Teaching Math to Preschoolers


The preschool years are a great time to introduce basic math concepts. This can even include teaching the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Preschoolers obviously can't be expected to sit down and work out math problems on paper. Basic math concepts can be taught as part of play and housework.

I recommend making a list of number activities you want to do with your child each day. Add a checkmark to make sure each is completed. Kids learn best from repetition, so it's important to cover the same concepts briefly every day until your preschooler grasps the concept. This may take weeks.

Magnetic and foam numbers are really good for use with preschoolers. I use Smethport 110 Foam Magnetic Numbers Set on a dry erase board. Make sure you get a board that can be used with magnets. You can also use your fridge.

You can teach math to preschoolers during play and housework

You can teach math to preschoolers during play and housework

Start With Counting

Don't teach your kids to recite the numbers up to 10. This is largely meaningless and kids may become confused by what numbers represent. What you want to do is teach them to count objects, so they will understand that numbers represent quantities. This is important for grasping addition and subtraction later on. Start with objects up to 5 at first. It takes preschoolers a while to actually understand what they're doing. Once they get good at counting increase the number of objects to 10.

Teach your child to recognise quantities. Start with small numbers at first. As an example, put out 3 items and see if your child can recognise how many there are without counting. If they don't know, tell them the answer. Again, it will take time for them to get to know these basic quantities.

Once your child actually understands what numbers represent, teach them to count up to 20 to begin with. You also need to teach them to recognise numbers. As an example, put the number 9 on the fridge for a couple of weeks and point to it regularly. It's an easy way to teach number recognition and it doesn't take much time. Look for number songs on YouTube as well.

Magnetic numbers can be used for number recognition as well. Ask your child to form the correct number. For example, you could ask them to make the number 12 on either the fridge or a dry erase board.

Get a Preschool Workbook

Preschool workbooks cover many foundational concepts in math, like shapes, more and less, bigger and smaller, quantities and patterns. Workbooks are a great way to ensure that you're covering all the necessary basics. Have your child do one to two pages a day.

Teaching Math During Housework and Play

Counting, more and less, bigger and smaller and patterns can all be taught as part of play or household chores. When you encounter a concept in your workbook find a hands on way to teach it as well. For example, when doing housework you can have your child sort cutlery into knives, forks and spoon when you're emptying the dishwasher. They can sort their plates, bowls and cups by color. They can match socks when you're doing laundry. You can teach fractions while cutting up a pizza.

You can teach concepts like patterns with toys. For example, you can use toy cars and toy people to make various patterns like person, car, person, car, person and then ask what comes next. Board games are another great way to teach during play. Bingo can teach number recognition. Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Yatzee Junior and Hi Ho Cherry-O can be used to teach counting.

Teaching Shapes

Preschool workbooks are a good introduction to shapes. You can also do shape hunts at home, at the playground and on walks. Shapes toys like the Learning Resources LER0134 Pattern Blocks allow kids to make pattern and pictures with shapes.

Math DVDs

Math DVDs are a great way to reinforce concepts. Munchkin Math, Leapfrog and Rock n' Learn make math DVDs for preschool and elementary age kids. If you are a Netflix subscriber, they have some math DVDs. Check your local library as well. Some libraries carry the excellent but very expensive Numbers Crew DVD series.

iPad Apps

iPad and Android apps are another great way to reinforce concepts in math. I recommend finding a few good ones and using them regularly. Some good iPad math apps for preschoolers are:

  • Find & Match Numbers 1 to 100
  • Caboose Learn to Recognize and Complete Patterns
  • Telling Time Photo Touch - you should start on hours and half hours
  • Learn Shapes Free
  • Pizza Fractions: Beginning with Simple Fractions

Addition and Subtraction

Once your child understands that numbers represent quantities you can move onto addition and subtraction. Start with addition. Use very small numbers like 1 + 1, 1 + 2, and 2 + 2 to start with. You can use items like blocks, toy cars, and cheerios to teach. As an example, put one car in front of your child. Ask them how many cars there are. Put another car close to it and ask how many cars there are now. Tell them that one car plus one more car adds up to 2 cars. Again, it might take a while for a child to really grasp what this means. Once they do understand addition, you can move onto subtraction. As an example, put 4 cars in front of your child. Take one away and ask how many are left. If you have magnetic numbers, show them how this looks as a math problem on a magnetic dry erase board.

Teaching Multiplication and Division

I have another article devoted to teaching multiplication and division to preschool and kindergarten kids. These concepts are easier to teach to this age group than you might expect. However, grasphing these topics takes time. Your child should ideally be able to count to 20 before they start learning how to multiply and divide. See How to Teach Multiplication and Division to a Preschooler.


Sheilamarie from British Columbia on May 28, 2015:

Using everyday activities as a way to demonstrate math concepts is so important.

LT Wright (author) from California on March 15, 2013:

Green Art,

It really is best to do a few minutes at a time and try to incorporate it into play. Kids tend to get excited about what they're learning once it starts to make sense to them, so they may ask to have things taught to them at some point.

Laura Ross on March 15, 2013:

I have a dry erase magnetic board and magnetic numbers for it and look forward to doing some of the simple math ideas suggested here in your hub. I like how you break things down so simply.

The idea to use objects like blocks and cars to do addition and subtraction are nice and simple too. The last thing I want to do is frustrate my grandson by presenting to much at once. Voted up and useful!