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My middle son turned 3 recently, and one of his presents was this set of magnetic numbers. The other day he brought the set out, and wanted me to play with him. I remembered an activity I had seen with magnetic letters and a baking sheet. I decided I would use this same concept to teach my son his numbers!
First I got out an old baking sheet, and then laid all the numbers onto it. I showed my son that the numbers wouldn’t fall off the baking sheet, which he responded with a big smile and a silly noise. Next I lined the numbers 1 to 9 at the top of the baking sheet.
Me: We’re going to work on your numbers today! Find the matching numbers, ok? Find the number ONE.
I pointed to the yellow #1 in the line of numbers I had set up. He didn’t really understand what I was trying to tell him to do, and he took the closest number (which happened to be 5), and placed it under the #1.
Me: That’s the number 5. Can you find the other number 1? It needs to “match the same” as this number 1.
I pointed to the yellow #1 again.
“Match the same” is a phrase he came up with on his own, so I thought it might help him better understand what I was trying to get him to do. Turns out it did! After a little bit of thinking, he found the orange #1. He placed it under the yellow #1, but upside down.
Son: I put foot together!
Me: (laughing a little at his cleverness) Yes you did!
And I left it that way. I didn’t tell him to turn it right side up. In my mind, he had found the right number and placed it correctly. I didn’t really care if it was right side up or not.
We continued on down the line.
Me: Can you find the #2?
I pointed to the red #2 in the line. He looked around for a little, then found the pink #2, and placed it below the red #2. I continued talking to him this way with each number going down the line. As he worked on matching numbers, some times he chose the wrong number. Once he placed the number under the number it was supposed to match, I would point to the two numbers and ask him, “Do these two match the same?” He would realize they didn’t match, and took the wrong number away.
I also didn’t focus on whether the numbers were upside down or backwards. He was really just looking for matching shapes, since the concept of numbers is new to him. I also helped him find matching numbers along the way, without telling him the answer. For example, if he was struggling to find a certain number, I would circle around the area on the baking sheet the number was in with my finger. He was then able to concentrate on a smaller area, and find the missing number, instead of being overwhelmed by looking on the whole sheet.
At one point skipped a few numbers and matched the #8. Again I didn’t correct him. I just encouraged him.
Me: Good job! You found the matching #8!
He then went back and found #6 and #7, and eventually #9.
Son: “I did it!” (with his hands up in the air, like he had just made a goal in soccer)
Me: You did!!
My main goal for doing this activity the first time was to make the whole experience very positive and fun. By making it fun, he will see this activity as a game, and want to do it again and again. Each time he will improve, and slowly learn the name of each number.
What kind of games do you use to teach your kids about math?