I recently connected with Emily, a fellow engineer turned stay at home mom who also runs a blog, Engineering Emily. Our sites share a mission to encourage others to pursue an engineering career. I asked Emily to share with us the preschool math activities she does with her 3 year old son. I know you’ll find these easy tips very helpful!
9 Easy Preschool Math Activities You Can Do Everyday
My preschooler is doing basic math on his own at 3 years old! I can hardly believe it myself, but it’s true. Here’s how I’ve helped him learn math. Start teaching math to toddlers as soon as they are talking I started introducing math to my son before he turned two. My husband and I first introduced counting to him by teaching him to count things he loved like his animal collection, yummy gummy vitamins, or stickers (collecting 10 to get a reward). You can read more about how I introduced him to math in my blog post “3 Ways to do Math Everyday with Toddlers“.
As the years have passed we’ve continued with counting, but have grown to much higher numbers and expanded on what we’re counting. My son is now 3-1/2 and he can count to 100 by himself. This didn’t happen overnight or even over weeks. It happened over months and years of us counting consistently with him just about everyday. We count anything and everything.
9 Daily Preschool Math Activities to do with your kids
1. Always point out when you’re doing math
My son is just starting to do basic addition and subtraction on his own. Before he was doing the math on his own I made sure he understood the two concepts. I explain to him that when you subtract two numbers the final number will be smaller than the two you started with and when you add you will get a larger number than you started with. Every time we do anything that involves addition or subtraction I point it out to him.
Me: We had two juice boxes left, you and baby sister each drank one, so now there are no more. Two minus two is zero.
When my son is putting his toys in piles in our play room I’ve heard him say “2 and 2 is 4.” This makes me so proud because I feel like our math encouragement is sinking in.
2. Counting allowance
We recently started giving my kids an “allowance” for doing chores. Since they are so young, there aren’t many chores they can help with, but their most important chore is cleaning up all their toys and books at the end of the day. If they do this, they earn a penny or two. My son will also earn extra small change from doing other chores here and there. Every evening he counts his earned change as he adds it to his piggy bank, and *bonus* he’s also started teaching his baby sister how to count her change and put it into her piggy bank too. 😉
3. Counting change for spending
When my son recently said he wanted a new animal figurine for his collection, we told him he can count his change to see if he has enough to buy one. My husband told him for every 3 coins he counts he has to save 2 back into his piggy bank and then he can set 1 aside to spend.
Last week he counted all his coins with my husband’s help (including more than 100 pennies!). They then separated the coins into saving and spending piles using our save 2 spend 1 rule. My son ended up with $4.30 in the spend pile to shop with at Target. My son wanted a toy rhino for $2.99 and a giant bubble wand from the dollar section. I figured with tax he’s be very close to $4.30. Cue the drumroll, please…the total came to $4.32 :(. I couldn’t believe he was just 2 pennies short! We spotted him the 2 pennies and everyone went home happy! 🙂
4. Counting away boredom in the car
Another way we incorporate counting is in the car. Here’s an example of how we incorporate math into our conversation when he’s bored in the car:
Son: How much longer until we’re home?
Me: We’ll be home by the time you count to 30.
Son: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8….
Once counting to 30 was too quick and easy for him, I said 40, once that was too quick and easy I said 50. He focuses on counting instead of being bored, and I help him when he gets stuck, forgets what number is next, or skips a number.
5. Counting eggs
If my son wants to eat an egg or I’m using one in a recipe we’ll count how many are left in the carton. This can also turn into simple math. Here’s an example of how we incorporate math into our conversation about eggs:
Son: I want an egg for breakfast.
Me: Ok, first let’s count how many eggs are left in the carton.
Son: (pointing to each egg…) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Me: We started with 12 eggs in the carton when we bought them from the store. You
counted 8 eggs remaining, how many have we eaten?
Son: (Counts the empty spots in the egg carton…) We’ve eaten 4 eggs.
Me: Good job! You just did subtraction: 12 minus 8 equals 4. Now how many will be left if
you eat one egg for breakfast?
Son: (Pulls one egg out and counts the eggs remaining…) 7!
Me: Good job! Eight minus one is seven.
6. Adding on fingers
My son is just learning to add, and I’ve found that using his fingers really helps him. He has some easy addition problems like 1+1=2 and 2+2=4 memorized, but when I ask him something “harder” like what is 2+4 he sometimes gets stuck. So I tell him to add with his fingers. He’ll hold up two fingers on his right hand and 4 fingers on his left and add them
together to get six.
Once I remind him of this method, he’ll continue counting like that throughout the day. So later I’ll ask, What is 2+3? And he’ll use his hands to add to 5.
7. Subtracting toys to share
It’s sometimes (ok, almost aways) hard to get my two kids to share. My son especially doesn’t like to share his animal collection with his baby sister, but that makes his animals even more appealing to her.
Here’s an example of how we incorporate math into our conversation about sharing:
Me: You have three animals in your hand. If you give baby sister one of them, how many will you have left?
Son: (He’ll look at his toys, count them to himself…) Two.
Me: Two is still more than the one baby sister will have if you share one with her.
Son: (Slowly realizes that he still has more animals if he shares one, so he hands one to baby sister)
We did basic subtraction together (without him noticing he is even doing math, but he’s learning regardless), and everyone is happy. 🙂
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8. Is it more than or less than?
To help my son learn about the size of numbers we often talk about if one number is more than or less than another number. He’ll ask how much longer until we’re home. I’ll say 30 minutes. He thinks about it and asks if that’s a long time? I say, well it’s longer than 15 minutes but shorter than 45 minutes.
Another way I use more than or less than questioning is with sharing and jealousy with his sister. If they are arguing over a snack, like grapes, here’s how I solve it with math:
Son: I want more grapes!
Me: How many grapes do each of you have?
Son: I have 9 and baby sister has 7.
Me: Is 9 more than or less than 7?
Son: (thinks…) More…
Me: You have more grapes than your sister. In fact if you want to be fair, you can give her one grape and you both have 8 (haha, a little wishful thinking by me).
9. Reading math books
My son really enjoys books. He loves being read to and he often asks my husband and I to read him books over and over again until he memorizes the book and then he will “read” it to us. I love it when I catch him sitting with a book and “reading” it to himself. Since my son loves books so much I try to use books as a learning tool for him as often as I can.
I have a few math books I’ve bought to help teach him math concepts. I really like Usborne First Math Lift-the-Flap book. It has fun pictures and flaps that make counting and learning basic math like addition and subtraction easy and fun. My son (and daughter) love this book and take their time looking at all the pictures and flaps.
I hope both my kids grow up loving math as much as I do. Based on my son’s desire to do math and learning to add so young, so far I think I’m succeeding. 🙂 Too often kids are scared of math or think they aren’t good at it. I think it’s similar to anything else that’s a learned skill like riding a bike or reading – you need to practice it to get good at it! I
practice math with my son just as often as we practice letters and reading. It is an essential skill and confidence booster for preschoolers that shouldn’t be overlooked.
I want to thank Emily for all her helpful tips on teaching preschoolers about math! On her site, Engineering Emily, she blogs about women in engineering, work/life balance for moms and STEM activities for kids. Emily worked as an engineer for 10 years before becoming a stay at home mom to her two children. She is passionate about encouraging kids to love STEM, introducing more girls to engineering, and motivating women to find personal happiness in their career and motherhood journeys.