Updated: Jun 1
Math has been the bane of existence to parents for generations. We resort to workbooks and Youtube videos to teach our kids, and we fight and listen to cries of struggle. It starts as small children and tends to extend throughout their learning. But I'm here to help! Learn how to teach preschool math in just a few easy steps with AND without worksheets and videos!
What is "preschool math?"
The first step in teaching preschool math is to understand what preschool math includes. For the purpose of this post, preschool ages range from 2 - 4 years old. In this time, we want them to know the basics: how to count, number recognition, simple addition and subtraction, patterns, and solving simple word problems.
Yes! Word problems! But I don't mean a lengthy problem that drones on and on about pineapples and triangles that have no relation to one another. I'm talking about real-life word problems that make sense! Say you're at the grocery store looking for ingredients for apple pie. The recipe calls for five apples, but you only have three at home. If you verbalize it the right way, this becomes a word problem!
"We only have three apples at home, but we need five! How many more do we need? Let's count the ones at home and add until we get five! One, two, three... Now, four, five! That's right! We added three and two to make five!" BAM! Word problem!
Okay, I get it. But how do I teach preschool math?
Just as I mentioned above, life is full of experiences ready for math skills! Count out the fruit in the grocery store. Subtract a toilet roll from the bunch when it's pulled from the closet. Add how many blueberries there are on the plate. How many rocks are near the flower?
Whenever you find yourself mentally counting, adding, or subtracting something in real-life, do it aloud and involve your child! During the COVID-19 shelter in place, we did a lot of shopping online or on our phones. We'd have B help count how many items we had in the house (two packs of toilet paper in the closet; only three apples left; and so on). Then, we'd involve her in the app or online grocery conversation: "Okay, Sister. We have three apples left. But we need eight for the week. Let's count on from the three we have until we get to eight. So, we have three, add four, five, six, seven, eight! How many did we add?" It was a great visual because the app doesn't include the number you have, just how many you added! The experience helped her gain real-world skills in terms of adding, counting on, and 21st-century skills of using the grocery app. In our house - that's a win!
Fine motor skills are imperative to development. We already knew that! But hands-on math activities give us a chance to sharpen our math skills AND our fine motor skills. These opportunities give your child the chance to move, build, create, and math (yes, I used it as a verb) when they think they're just helping or playing!
Sort the groceries when they arrive - refrigerated items in one pile, pantry items in another, and frozen in the last.
Sort colors of toys/books - stack the blue books here, red books there, and yellow books behind your back.
Build a structure only using a number of Legos - build a house with ten Legos, or a store out of twenty!
Create the number with play dough - create the number four, or draw the number with a toothpick and put that number play dough circles in front of the number (the possibilities are endless with play dough).
I thought you said we were teaching preschool math here, not art! - Yes, yes, hear me out!
Children often have a natural affinity and love for art, so why not use it? When you use art throughout your math lessons, children don't seem to complain or struggle. There are laughs and messes, but so much learning going on! Here's how we use art in preschool math:
Paint numbers on rocks - have them line up the correct number of beans in front of the rock!
Geometry in art - look through picture books or classical art paintings; point out the different shapes and have your child create their own work of art using the shapes!
Adding on to the geometry - place a divider between the painting and another piece of paper. Ask them to mirror the image while calling out different shapes and colors.
Patterns - have them paint, build, or craft something using a pattern.
This one is a favorite of ours! We role-play through our addition and subtraction lessons. We utilize a dry erase board, peg dolls, and counters to set the stage. Then, I start the story!
"Sister has ten apples in her house. Brother has five. Brother decides to give her three. How many does Sister have now?" During my story, she moves the pieces. Then, she counts!
"Thirteen apples, Mommy! Ten plus three is thirteen!"
"Great! How many apples does Brother have left?"
"Two! Five take away three is two!"
All the while, there are numbers on the board for recognition. As these numbers change in the story, she changes them on the board!
We also use role-playing for body-relative positions - again with peg dolls and blocks! I work through some silly story and she moves the pieces!
"The Grandma wants to go fishing! Where does she need to be?"
"On top of the bridge!"
"Ms. Yellow needs to be on the left side of the bridge to see the stars."
And the stories go on and on! She thinks she's playing, but we all know better!
Music and Videos
Our house doesn't believe in NOT using technology for learning. We simply don't allow it for extended periods of time for pleasure or for the entire lesson. These are some of our favorite songs and videos for preschool math:
Jack Hartmann: We LOVE Jack Hartmann! He's a cheesy old man who dances and sings the entire time! B just adores this grandfather figure getting silly!
Homeschool Pop: Both of my kids really enjoy this channel. It's animated, so they think they're watching cartoons, and they tend to repeat the information all day!
Preschool Math is everywhere!
You can teach preschool math just about anywhere with anything. It's not meant to be difficult, and there are always options for making it a little harder if your child is ready and willing! But preschool is meant to be about playing, hands-on learning, and exploring. Don't expect your child to sit still for an hour at a time, pumping out worksheet after worksheet. Have fun and spend time together!