How to Make Math Fun for Little Kids

Study: Parents' Math Fear Can Be Passed on to Kids; How to Stop the Cycle

Make math fun for your preschooler by finding it in every day situations, such as the grocery store. Hero images

Does  the thought of multiplication tables strike fear into your heart? If someone asked you to add 56 + 78 without using a calculator, would you be able to do it without panicking? If you answered "yes" to both questions, you may not went to let your preschooler see you sweat. 

new study from researchers at the University of Chicago found that if parents are anxious about math, it's likely that the child will be as well.

"We often don't think about how important parents' own attitudes are in determining their children's academic achievement. But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying 'Oh, I don't like math' or 'This stuff makes me nervous,' kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success," explained Sian Beilock, a professor in psychology and a senior author on the study.

"Math-anxious parents may be less effective in explaining math concepts to children, and may not respond well when children make a mistake or solve a problem in a novel way," added Susan Levine, the other senior author and the Rebecca Anne Boylan Professor of Education and Society in psychology.

So if you are math-phobic, what can you do to help your preschooler understand and carry through their lifetime that math is fun and not something they need to be intimidated by? Lots, actually! Because when you are little kid, math can be a lot of fun and really interesting.

The key is to find examples of math in the everyday, and then point them out to your preschooler. Here's how:

Know what math is. For preschoolers, math isn't necessarily learning that 1 +1 = 2. That will come later. For now, math for young children is learning about patterns, shapes, counting, and the actual numbers themselves.

So when you want to talk to your little one about math, it's recognizing that concept and building on it.

Find math in the everyday. If your preschooler is home with you while you are doing chores around the house, for example, get him or her involved. Sorting laundry? Ask your little one to count the socks. Cooking supper? Ask your preschooler to take out how many eggs you need. Or to set out five places at the dinner table, or give the dog three scoops of dog food. Get the idea?

Point out numbers. Numbers are everywhere -- you really don't have to look very hard to find them! They are on your phone, your tv remote, your car, the newspaper -- everywhere! So as you and your preschooler come across these numbers in your daily travels, point them out. If you see a "3," ask what comes before and after it. While you are going on your daily walk through the neighborhood, notice the different house numbers. Ask your preschooler: Do the numbers get bigger or smaller? 

Go shopping. If you are heading to the store, math is everywhere!

Sure, in prices, but in other places on the shelves too. If you are at the supermarket, point out the scale to your preschooler. Weigh some fruits and vegetables. Talk to your preschooler about how the scale changes when you put things on and take them off. Look at the shelves. Compare how some items are bigger than others.

Pay attention to shapes. Tissue boxes and televisions are both rectangles, but they are different sizes. A button is a circle and so is a doorknob. But some doorknobs can be square (and so can some buttons!). Point out the different shapes and sizes that you see. What can your preschooler find?

Play "I Spy." I Spy is a great game because you can really hunt for just about anything. So make it a math version. Variations include:

  • "I spy with my own eye, something that has two knobs."
  • "I spy with my own eye, something that is shaped like a triangle."
  • "I spy with my own eye, something that is bigger than a dog (or something that is in the room that you can compare to)."

The key is, no matter how you introduce math to your little one, it's important that you do and stay positive about it. You never know, you may become a math fan yourself!

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