How to Teach Maths to Preschool and Kindergarten Children
Why you need to teach maths through play
How to Teach Maths to Toddlers at Home
How to teach maths to preschoolers at home
How to teach maths to kindergarteners at home
How to prepare your child for primary school maths
Are toddlers and preschoolers too young to learn maths? Not at all!
In fact, did you know that young children are natural mathematicians? A child’s earliest maths lessons take place in the home, through everyday activities. For instance, when a toddler reaches into a cookie jar, she will realise that one cookie is not enough to feed everyone—unless she breaks it into pieces! Toddlers will also learn about size when comparing heights with their family members, and when they fill an empty cup with water (and it overflows), it is their first exposure to volume and capacity.
This is the perfect time to tap into your child’s curiosity, to show him or her how maths is everywhere in our lives!
It is equally important that children remain interested in maths as they grow older, because in today’s digital-first world, numeracy skills are essential for survival. From making sense of data to managing our finances, many daily life experiences require us to be comfortable with numbers. And if your child is already dreaming about being an aerospace engineer, computer coder, or entrepreneur, these jobs (and many more) will require a solid foundation in maths.
As a parent, how can you help your child to love maths and learn it well? At Shaws Preschool, we recommend learning maths through play and exploration! Read on to find out:
Why You Need to Teach Maths Through Play
“3, 2, 1! Ready or not, here I come!”
How does your child first encounter numbers? Quite often, it is through playing a game like hide and seek. At this point, your child probably isn’t thinking about the value of each number, even if he is counting from 1 to 10. All he’s doing is getting ready to seek out his hiding friends! Yet, before long, your child will catch on that these numbers indicate a sequence. These connections are made naturally, and there is no formal ‘lesson’ required.
This simple example shows how teaching your child maths through play helps him or her to develop early numeracy skills. These are the maths themes that will provide a strong foundation for mathematics learning when your child officially enters primary school, and they include:
- Number sense: The ability to count forwards and backwards, which sets the stage to learn addition and subtraction. Beyond recognising and counting numbers, number sense also involves the ability to take numbers apart and put them together in different ways—in other words, children with good number sense can think flexibly and fluidly about numbers.
- Spatial sense: Shapes, sizes, positions, directions, and movement—basic concepts that will be called upon when children learn geometry in school.
- Measurement: When a child realises that things are not equal in size or shape and begins to make comparisons and decisions, such as ”I can’t fit in there, I’m too big!” Another discovery is that shapes may look similar, but they may not be the same size.
- Estimation: “How many candies are left in the candy jar?” Guessing games seem like pure fun now, but they do prime your child’s brain to make logical assessments based on limited knowledge. If your child loves this, he or she may want to consider a future career as a consultant—aspiring consultants are often asked “guesstimate” questions at interviews!
- Patterns: Maths patterns aren’t limited to shapes and colours, as we can also talk about patterns in daily life. For instance, your child may ask “Where’s dada (or mama)?” if one parent is out for longer than usual. The connection may not be obvious now, but children need to be able to spot patterns before they can learn multiplication and division. Being able to recognise patterns and identify when something appears out of sync is also part of reasoning and making logical connections—a precious skill in today’s complex world.
- Problem solving: You may not have realised it, but the classic shape sorter toy helps your child to become a problem solver! By trying to stuff shapes into the appropriate holes, your child learns the value of trial and error, which comes before success. And if your child should decide to pry open the shape sorter and toss in the shapes, that’s thinking out of the box to find a solution, and should be applauded! After all, there is always more than one way to fix a problem.
Why Rote Learning is Not The Best Way
But what about memorising and drilling, you may ask? After all, isn’t that how we used to learn maths as kids? If your child has a good memory and picks things up easily, you may be tempted to give your child worksheets for addition and subtraction, or even start teaching your child to recite the times tables.
Although some children may seem to pull it off, such efforts could backfire in the long run. Here’s why:
When children approach maths as something to be memorised, they lose out on the chance to develop their number sense. Years later, if they face a question such as 9 x 9, they will only be able to give the answer if they have remembered it.
In contrast, a child with number sense might think “That’s 9 groups of 9. What’s 10 groups of 9—or 9 x 10?” and subtract 9 from 90 to arrive at the answer.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the limits of rote learning and memorisation for maths. It is always better for children to acquire maths skills through play and hands-on activities, so that they truly understand how numbers work.
How to Teach Maths to Toddlers at Home
From the ages of one to two, these are the maths skills that toddlers are starting to develop:
- Reciting numbers—although toddlers are prone to skipping a number or two!
- Understanding that numbers represent a quantity (“How many?”)
- Identifying and matching basic shapes (squares, rectangles, circles, triangles)
- Learning about measurement, by filling and emptying containers
- Using comparison words, such as “bigger” and “faster”
- Observing visible patterns that they see around them (e.g. on floor tiles)
Wonder what maths skills you can teach your toddler at home?
Even if your one-year-old toddler can’t count yet, you can start laying the groundwork for the above maths skills with everyday activities. Sing songs about numbers, play counting games, and introduce basic shapes!
When your child is around two years old, you can try teaching simple addition (1+1) and subtraction (1–1). A way to do this is by using everyday objects, like pieces of fruit or toy blocks, to help your child understand what’s happening.
In daily conversations with your child, you can use language that reflects basic mathematical concepts. For example, if you are setting the table for four, and your child asks to bring a fifth plate, say, “That’s one more plate than what we need. There are only four of us here.” This will help your child to recognise the quantities involved in maths problems.
Here are more ways to introduce maths topics to your toddlers:
- Number sense: “Let’s count how many eyes your bear has! 1, 2!” or “I have 1, 2, 3 cookies, and you have 1, 2, cookies. I have more cookies!” or “Let’s race and see who comes in first and second!”
- Spatial sense: You can describe objects by their shape, and start to introduce the idea of relationships between objects (or people). “He’s hiding under the table!” or “See if you can climb to the top!” or “Go and sit next to your sister.”
- Measurement: “Are you able to carry that, or is it too heavy for you?” or “We’ve been waiting for her for a long time!”
- Patterns: “Look at her shirt! It’s got spots. Look at mine, I’ve got stripes!” or “Look, there’s a missing tile here!”
- Problem solving: “The dolls don’t fit in here, let’s put them in a bigger box” or “That might not be the right lid/cover for this box, try this one instead!”
Fun Maths Games and Activities for Toddlers
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- In the kitchen: Toddlers can help to sort and count plastic utensils at home—try sorting from big to small, or by colour and type.
- In the bedroom: When deciding what to wear for the day, identify a colour, pattern, or type of clothing for your toddler to pick out and bring to you. Or ask your toddler to help find matching pairs of socks!
- In the shower: During bath time, your toddler can count or sort toys in the bathroom.
- Outdoors: Go on a nature walk to gather items, and sort them by size, colour, and shape. You can also hold a “colour hunt” to see who can collect the most items of a chosen colour!
How to Teach Maths to Preschoolers at Home
Between the ages of three and four, preschoolers can develop the following maths skills:
- Counting up to 20
- Understanding that the number “1” represents the word “one” and so on
- Simple addition
- Recognising shapes that they see in real life
- Learning to sort items by colour, shape, size, or purpose
- Making comparisons (“I’m shorter than you” or “I’m a girl and you’re a boy.”)
- Putting puzzles together (which requires spatial awareness)
- Observing and predicting cause and effect (“What happens if I do this?”)
Anxious to teach maths to your preschooler at home? Don’t be worried if your preschooler hasn’t learned to count yet—it will happen, just give it time.
In the meantime, listen to (and sing) number songs together, such as “1,2,3,4,5, Once I Caught A Fish Alive” or “10 Green Bottles,” because these songs will help your child to get used to counting forwards and backwards. You can also look for storybooks about numbers (such as “Ten Flashing Fireflies” by Philemon Sturges) and read them aloud to your child. Most importantly, find ways to count and talk about numbers in your daily life!
Here are some fun ways to weave maths topics into your daily conversations with your preschooler:
- Number sense: “Let’s make sure everyone has 20 raisins each!” or “Let’s rest for 10 minutes before we leave home. We’ll set a timer.”
- Spatial sense: “Let’s not go to that mall, it’s too far away. We’ll go to this one instead, it’s nearby and it will only take us a few minutes to get there.” or “Can you reach that shelf, or is it too high for you?”
- Measurement: “Let’s count our marbles. Who has more marbles?” or “I’m thinking of a number greater than 1 but less than 4. Can you guess what it is?”
- Patterns: “Let’s arrange everything in the same order as this. What should come first?”
- Problem solving: “How many plates do we need at the table? Do we have 5 plates yet? Let’s count the empty spaces to see how many more plates we need!”
Fun Maths Games and Activities for Preschool Kids
During the preschool years, you can make maths games and activities more exciting by giving your child a sense of autonomy. Here’s what you can do:
- In the kitchen: Ask your preschooler to help set the table, or decide which plate or bowl is big enough to contain the food that you’re serving.
- In the bedroom: Let your preschooler organise his or her bedroom. For instance, you could ask your child to arrange the soft toys on the bed, and find out how your child decided to sort them.
- In the playroom: If your child loves LEGO, there are countless ways to sort (and tidy) these blocks! Should they organise LEGO by sets, by colour, or by block type? How should mini figurines be grouped? Let your child decide, and ask your child why that is the preferred option. Remember: no answer is the wrong answer!
- At the supermarket: The supermarket is a great place to let your preschooler see how maths plays a role in daily life—weigh items together, show your child the prices of each item, and let your child see how numbers are added at the check-out counter.
Some preschoolers might already enjoy board and card games, which are great for bonding, and can help to reinforce early numeracy skills. You can refer to this guide for maths games that are suitable for preschoolers.
How to Teach Maths to Kindergarteners at Home
From age five to six, kindergartners typically pick up the following maths skills:
- Recognising the numbers 1 to 100
- Adding and subtracting by counting the fingers on one or both hands
- Comparing numbers and being able to identify the larger of two numbers
- Putting objects into groups, such as pairs
- Understanding simple time concepts, such as morning/night and the days of the week
- Understanding measurement terms such as length and height
At this point, you may be concerned about whether your child will be sufficiently prepared for primary school.
As early childhood educators, we believe that the foundational concepts learned in kindergarten are so important, because they prepare your child for primary school maths and beyond. Here’s how you can talk to your child, to support their understanding of these concepts:
- Number sense (and problem solving): “Two of your friends are coming over. Let’s make sure everyone has two snack packs. How many will we need in total?” or “Yes, you can buy a toy, but it has to be $10 or less. Let’s see how much this is.”
- Spatial sense: “Let’s see where our car is on the map! Oh, the driver’s gone the wrong way and needs to turn around!” (if using a ride-hailing service) or “Here’s where we are on the map. Should we turn left or right to get to the restaurant?”
- Measurement: “Let’s see if you grew any taller this month!” or “Let’s check if you’re heavier after lunch!”
- Patterns: “Let’s see if we can figure out these dance moves. What comes first? What comes next?”
A fun trick that you can try is to deliberately make a mistake—such as saying, “How long am I?” (instead of “tall”)—to see if your child picks up on it. You can also make mistakes in counting or when doing simple sums, to let your child have the pleasure of correcting you!
Fun Mathematics Games for Kindergarten Children
Need more activities to stimulate maths thinking in your kindergartener? Try these ideas:
- In the kitchen: Your kindergartener is ready to be a kitchen helper! Ask your child to measure ingredients with a weighing scale or measuring cup.
- In the bedroom: Play a decluttering game, where you count and sort the different types of toys that your child has at home, and decide on the “excess” that should be given away
- In the car: Make up your own games to play while in the car, such as identifying different car models (by their brand logos) or assigning points for spotting each model. You can also play games to spot cars of a specific colour or type (e.g. taxis). A scoring system—such as 1 point for a “normal” car and 2 points for a taxi—will encourage your child to practise adding!
- When dining out: Where possible, ask your child to buy their own food, so that they can experience handling small amounts of money and counting change.
Above all, do look out for new ways to play maths games with your kindergartener. If your child is a puzzle fan, he or she might enjoy logic-based maths puzzles known as “matchstick puzzles,” which you can safely recreate with cotton buds.
Prefer to focus on addition and subtraction? A pair of dice is all you will need. You can take turns to throw two dice, add up the numbers, and see who has more. In a subtraction game, you can subtract the smaller value from the larger value—the person with the larger remainder wins.
Want more challenging dice games? Scholastic has some interesting suggestions!
Final Thoughts: Preparing Your Child for Primary 1 Maths
For children entering Primary 1 in a Singapore school, please rest assured that they are not expected to have gone through any formal maths classes. What’s essential is early numeracy skills, as these provide a solid grounding for maths learning. As long as children have understood the maths concepts that they have learned in preschool and kindergarten, they will be well prepared for Primary 1.
Eager to find out what your child will learn in Primary 1? The best place to download this information is the Singapore Ministry of Education’s syllabus page.
To give you an idea of what your child will be learning for maths, here’s an overview of the main topics covered in the current Primary 1 mathematics syllabus:
- Numbers up to 100 (includes learning about place values i.e. ones and tens, learning to write numbers in both numeral and word form, ordering numbers, and spotting patterns in number sequences)
- Addition and subtraction (adding and subtracting within 100)
- Multiplication and division (multiplying within 40 and dividing within 20)
- Money (counting in cents up to $1, counting in dollars up to $100, and solving simple money problems)
Measurement and Geometry
- Length (measuring objects using items such as paper clips)
- Time (telling time to the hour, or half hour)
- Shapes (identifying, describing, and classifying classic shapes, as well as making patterns)
- Picture graphs (learning to interpret simple graphs)
Do refer to the Ministry of Education’s official maths syllabus for the full picture.
If you have supported your child by helping to reinforce maths concepts at home, your child will be ready for this new phase of learning!
As they begin Primary 1, children may take a while to acquaint themselves with their maths worksheets and review tests, and they may not get the answer right every time. This is all part of the process, so do give your child the space to make mistakes and learn from them. Only then will your child continue to love learning maths, and be resilient enough to keep trying, even when things are hard.