Prepare your child for school success with these fun math activities to do at home.

By Deborah Stipek, Ph.D.
Updated April 15, 2020
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Learning math promotes working memory, improves attention, and increases other basic cognitive skills. Various studies have shown that a child's math skills upon entering kindergarten can strongly predict her future academic performance in both math and reading throughout the elementary grades. 

But don't head to the store to buy flash cards and worksheets, which might squelch your child's natural interest in the subject. Instead, engage her in these playful math activities to help her develop a strong foundation.

Number Concept Activities

Counting helps children learn number sequence—but they need to develop a basic understanding of numbers first. Three important number concepts are one-to-one correspondence (each object is counted only once); cardinality (the last object counted is the total number of objects); and invariance (the number of objects doesn't change if they are configured differently—for instance, spread out or placed in a circle). Here are math activities for preschoolers to help develop these concepts.

Count objects in everyday contexts. Count the buttons on your child's shirt, the oranges you put in the grocery bag, the forks needed to set the table, or the stairs to the front door. Start with small numbers (no more than five) and add a few as your child is ready for a challenge.

Put small objects in a row. Gather some coins and ask your child how many there are. After she has counted them, rearrange them in a circle or row, and ask her again. Don't be surprised if she has to count them for a second time. But if she automatically answers without counting, you'll know he has mastered number invariance.

Find objects that go together. If your child has difficulty with one-to-one correspondence, find objects that correlate—such as spoons and forks, cups and saucers, horse and cowboy figurines—and ask him to pair them together. As he does, have him count each set of objects to help reinforce the idea that each pair consists of the same number.

Play board games that involve counting. Simple board games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders help preschoolers recognize numbers on a dice and count moves. More complex games involve two dice instead or one or doubling the number that comes up for each move. 

Geometry and Spatial Understanding Activities

Children develop a basic understanding of geometry and spatial relations by playing with building toys like blocks. Encourage geometry-related skills with these math things to do at home.

Identify shapes in your home. Find basic shapes around the home, such as rectangles in light switches, squares in window panes, and circles in clocks. Ask your child to explain how she differentiates each shape by their defining features (for instance, a triangle has three connected sides) and non-defining features (such as the position or size of the triangle).

Talk about picture placement in a book. When reading a storybook, use spatial language to discuss the placement of pictures. Ask related questions such as "Where is the moon? Is it above the tree? Is it under the tree?" Or reference sizes by asking, "Is the hippopotamus bigger than the monkey? Which animal is bigger? Which animal is smaller?"

Make a map of your home. Practice spatial language by helping your child make a map of his bedroom. As he places and spaces out furniture, windows, and closets, ask him questions about where they're located and how close together they are.

Measurement Activities

Your child will learn many forms of measurement (length, height, weight, size, quantities). Embed concepts into everyday life with these activities for preschoolers.

Measure while you cook or bake. Fill measuring cups with water or flour—and measuring spoons with vanilla extract—to introduce your kids to whole numbers and fractions. Ask questions such as "Can you fill a half cup? Can you fill one teaspoon?"

Guess weight at the supermarket. The next time you visit the grocery store, pull two different items from the shelves and ask your child which one is heavier: "Is it the can of soup or the box of crackers?" Children will learn how to understand the concepts of heaviness and lightness.

Compare feet sizes. Place your foot next to your child's foot and ask her which is longer or bigger. Have a ruler or tape measure on hand to compare the sizes and help her differentiate between long and short, large and small.

Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., is a professor at Stanford University and a Parents advisor. She is also the author of Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning.

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