Young children love to ask questions and play games. Early learners crave experiences that incorporate their senses, that require them to experiment and make observations, and that allow them to explore. As your child’s first teacher, you can start introducing basic math concepts such as numbers, counting, shapes, patterns, and measurement while playing together. Try some of the fun and educational math activities that are suggested below to help get you started.
10 Math Games for Early Learners
1) Mystery Number
Cut a rectangle into the front of a large mailing envelope. Print the numerals 0 – 9 on sheets of 8 ½ x 11 paper, large enough so they will be partially visible in the area you cut away. Slide the paper into the envelope so that only part of the numeral can be seen. Have your child try to figure out the number that is peeking through the opening. Next, take the number out of the envelope and have them trace along the lines or curves with their finger and say it aloud with you. (Number Recognition)
2) Count, Clip, Create
Gather some spring-loaded clothespins and a deck of playing cards, face cards removed; aces are one. Place the cards face down. Have your child draw a card and then take that number of clothespins. Can they create a shape with that number of clothespins? If not, select another card and add that number to the previous card. Let your child explore and create a shape out that number of clothespins by clipping them together. For example, if your child selects a card with a 3 and takes three clothespins they can create a triangle. Show them if you add one more clothespin they can make a square. Add one more clothespin to one side of the square and they can make a trapezoid. Encourage creativity! If a card with a seven is selected, the shape they create might be irregular. (Geometry, Shapes)
3) Numbers in a Line
Create a number line from 0 – 10 outside with chalk or inside with painter’s tape and index cards or sticky notes. Let your child try any or all of the following activities:
Walk/jump/tiptoe along the number line – Call out the name of each numeral as they step on it. As an extension activity, place a set of small objects, such as dried beans, next to each number and watch them discover that the amounts increases as they step along the line.
Walk backward along the number line – Call out the name of each number as they step on it. Again, place a set of objects next to each number and point out that the amounts decrease as they step along the line.
Skip count – Say the numbers, “2 – 4 – 6 – 8 – 10” and have your child step or hop on each number that is said. Then skip count by threes. Soon they will be repeating the pattern on their own.
Matching by numbers or quantities – Place a second number card or set of objects to correspond with each number along the number line. For example, next to the number 2, have your child place two socks or a second card with the number two on it. (Number Recognition, Counting, Matching a number and a quantity)
4) Spherical Geoboards
Make a geoboard out of a pumpkin or a melon by helping your child randomly insert pushpins or gently hammer golf tees with a wooden mallet around the surface. Have your child stretch rubber bands around the extending pegs to create a variety of shapes, patterns, and designs. Challenge them to create different shapes (and sizes) such as triangles, squares, rectangles, or hexagons. (Shapes, Patterns)
5) Math Apps
KinderTown is an educational app for engaged parents. Inside the app, it is easy to search for math apps for early learners. You can specify your child’s age, the subject area, and your interest in free or paid apps. The math apps are categorized into subcategories: Geometry, Logic, Measurement, and Number Sense. Often math apps for early learners include multiple skills, but do not let that discourage you or your child. Play along with them and enjoy the learning process. (Various Math Skills)
6) Guess the Amount
Gather baby food jars or other small glass containers with lids. Fill each jar with items such as cotton balls, nuts, paper clips, beads, dried pasta, grapes, buttons, or anything that can be easily counted. Do not mix items within a jar. Ask your child to guess how many items are in the jar. For the first estimation, let them guess without much guidance from you. Next, count out the items together and compare the actual amount to the estimated amount. Refill the jar with either a different amount of the same item or with a new item. Help them make a new estimation using what they learned from their first try. For example, if the jar contained dried pasta but you put in fewer pieces the second time, talk together about what that means. (Estimation, Critical Thinking)
7) Fill the Dot
Draw several different size circles on a paper plate, parchment paper, or card stock. Water down some paint and have an eye dropper on hand. Have your child pick a circle and estimate how many drops of paint it would take to fill it. Next, have them fill the circle with drops of paint. Count the drops together to see how close the actual amount is to their estimate. (Estimation, Counting)
8) Measurement Scavenger Hunt
Introduce the basic concepts of measurement by selecting one small object and asking your child to find things around the house (or outside) that weigh the same, less, or more than the object. They can also search for things that are longer, shorter, or the same size. (Measurement)
9) Timer Games
Familiarize your child with the concept of time by creating timer games that they will enjoy doing with you. Set a time limit. Then count how many times they can do something within a set time period. For example, how many times can they hop in one minute? In two minutes? Try to see how many times they can bat a balloon in the air. Set the timer and count with your child. (Time)
Collect three-dimensional objects such as cans, cartons, cereal boxes, paper tubes, and balls. Work together to create a shape-scape using cylinders (paper tubes) as tree trunks, spheres (balls) as treetops, and rectangles (cereal boxes) as buildings, etc. As an extension, plan an addition to the structure. (Geometry, Three-Dimensional Shapes)
If you find that an aspect of an activity is frustrating to your child, provide assistance or take a break. Try to keep it fun and flexible so they stay engaged. Remember that young children learn math best when they are allowed to explore and make connections to what they are learning as part of their everyday lives. As your approach to working with your early learner evolves and expands, you will discover math concepts can be fun and easy to incorporate into their play experiences.