The preschool years are a great time to introduce basic math concepts, including the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This doesn't mean sitting down and working out lots of math problems on paper. Preschoolers can be taught as part of play and housework.
I recommend making a list of math-related activities you want to do with your child each day. Add a checkmark when each one is completed. Kids learn best from repetition, so it's important to cover the same concepts briefly on a regular basis until your preschooler grasps them. This may take weeks.
Magnetic and foam numbers are perfect for preschoolers. I used Smethport 110 Foam Magnetic Numbers Set on a dry erase board. Make sure to get a board that can be used with magnets. You can also use your fridge.
Start With Counting
Teaching kids to recite numbers up to 10 is largely meaningless because they may misunderstand what numbers represent. Instead, teach them to count objects. That way, they will connect numbers with 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 recognize quantities. Start with small numbers at first. As an example, put 3 toy cars on the table and see if your child knows how many there are without counting. If they don't know, tell them the answer. Again, it will take time to get to know these basic quantities. And make this fun. Don't treat it as a lesson. Treat it as a game.
Once your child actually understands what numbers represent, teach them to count up to 20. You also need to teach them to recognize 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 to further reinforce learning.
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 the workbook, find a hands-on way to teach it. For example, when doing housework you can have your child sort cutlery into knives, forks, and spoons. 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.
Use toys to teach patterns. 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.
Preschool workbooks are a good introduction to shapes. You can also do shape hunts at home, at the playground, and on walks. Shapes-related toys like the Learning Resources LER0134 Pattern Blocks allow kids to make patterns and pictures with shapes.
Some math DVDs like Munchkin Math, Leapfrog, and Rock n' Learn are aimed at preschool and elementary-age kids. Check any streaming services you subscribe to for math-related shows. If you have Disney+, check out Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which is a fantastic math-learning show. Some libraries carry the excellent but very expensive Numbers Crew DVD series.
Turn your iOS and Android devices into learning tools. Apps are a fun way to reinforce concepts in math. I recommend finding a few good ones and using them regularly. Looks for concepts like matching, numbers, patterns, time, shapes, and 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. 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 understand addition, 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.
When your child has mastered basic addition and subtraction, move onto problems that answer the question "how many more is needed" to make a certain number. For example, put 2 cheerios on a plate. Ask how many more are needed to get to 5. Show them how this looks on paper: 2 + x = 5.
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, grasping 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.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 LT Wright
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:
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!