When we think of learning, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking of an official lesson. Sometimes, though, the best learning might seem more like play. Little ones especially may not be ready to sit and do an official math lesson. But that doesn’t mean they can’t begin to discover the joy of numbering God’s creation!
Here are some ideas on how to get started teaching numbers to young learners. Keep in mind they can all be adapted to fit your child.
- Playing ball with your child? Count the number of throws. Slipping counting into play is a subtle way to help a child begin to think about numbers.
- Is your child more attentive in the morning? Try pulling the calendar down each morning and counting through the days of the month during breakfast or snack time. Maybe have paper or a dry erase board handy so he or she can help write today’s number. You could also let him or her put a sticker on the date once they’ve counted up to it.
- Have a snack of crackers or raisins? Count them out together. Or use the raisins as manipulatives to help a child understand 10-20. Form a pile of 10 raisins, and explain we write 10 as 10—1 pile of ten and zero more. Then add a raisin next to that pile of 10. Explain that now we have 1 pile of ten and 1 more, so we write 11. The 1 to the left means 1 pile of ten.
- Have a child afraid of writing the numbers wrong? Use a dry erase board or chalkboard. I also once heard the idea of having children write in sand with their fingers. Get creative—numbers don’t have to be learned on paper!
- Make a habit of point out numbers you see in life. When putting away a cheerio box, stop and have your child find some numbers on it first. (You could do letters at the same time.) When your child opens a Bible, point out the chapters and verses. Point out when you’re using numbers while cooking or driving. Count aloud whenever you count. You’re child is paying more attention than you realize!
- Board games are great teaching tools. Have your child count the number of circles on the dice and move that many. Or get a die that has the numbers written on it. (If the game uses 2 dice, have them do one die at a time rather than trying to tell them the sum…until they’re ready for addition.)
- When looking at books, have your child count how many ducks, dots, etc., are on the page. Or if they can’t count yet, count them yourselves. Children are great imitators—if they see you curious and counting, they’ll likely catch on.
As you talk about numbers, remember to sometimes remind your child that numbers help us explore God’s creation. We can count because God gave us that ability. Make counting a fun part of life—learning doesn’t have to be tedious book work, especially with little ones!
Looking for more ideas on teaching elementary math? I wrote Revealing Arithmetic specifically to help guide parents and teachers through the early years. There’s also an eCourse where I demonstrate teaching different concepts.