Did you know that math talk — which is as easy as using numbers while talking with your little one — can set your child up for a lifetime of success in math class? It’s never too early to start, whether you’re counting Cheerios together or pointing out triangles, squares, and circles. Here are 10 ways to sneak a little math talk into your kindergartner’s day.

  1. Snack time math

    Give your child a small serving of finger food — Goldfish, grapes, that kind of thing — and have your child count them before eating. Have your child eat one — but only one! Now how many are there? Gradually as the snack gets eaten, the counting will evolve into mental math.

  2. Making math models

    Nope, nothing to do with runways. In math, modeling means using real-life objects or pictures to show math problems. Ask your kindergartner to draw a kid who has 5 cookies and is getting 1 more cookie from a friend. That drawing counts as a math model!

  3. Use your hands

    Before they can add 2 + 3 or subtract 4 – 1, kindergartners need to understand what adding and subtracting means. You can help! Collect a small pile of buttons. Have your child create a pile with 4 buttons and a pile with 2 buttons. Push those piles together to make a new pile with 6 buttons. Count the total together and explain to your child, “That’s addition!” Next, take 2 buttons away from the big pile. Together, count the 4 buttons left and explain to your child, “That’s subtraction!”

  4. Send them on a scavenger hunt

    Which is bigger? Kindergartners need to be able to compare things by size. First, give your child a chopstick and send them on a scavenger hunt around the house (or a room) to find two items that are longer and four that are shorter. (That way, they practice counting, too.) Then hand your child a small ball and have them find two round things that are bigger. Is everything really bigger/smaller? You may get to test out your child’s logic skills with some of their answers.

  5. What should I do with these numbers?

    Does your kindergartner know that when they hear a word problem about Santa eating cookies from a plate on Christmas Eve that subtraction is involved? Build this understanding by sharing lots of math stories with your child. Then stop and ask, “What’s happening? Do we need to add or subtract to figure out what is happening in this problem?” If talking about it doesn’t make sense, have your child draw a picture or use blocks to help bring the problem (and solution) to life.

  6. Which is smaller?

    Kindergartners need to learn how numbers compare to each other. Help your child understand how the numbers four, five, and seven compare to each other by asking your child to draw a picture of four stars, a picture of five stars, and a picture of seven stars. Then ask your child to put them in order from low to high, and then high to low. Once your child masters these, try again with larger numbers (up to 20).

  7. Picture a place (value)

    Counting, recognizing, and naming numbers is sooooo preschool! Now your kindergartner needs to know the value of each digit in a number. Drawing it out can help your child visualize the value behind a number. Ask your child to draw the number 13 using circles, for example, with one group of 10 circles and three loose ones. Once they can do this easily for 11 to 19, give your child larger numbers to draw.

  8. Get into shape!

    Or shapes. Your child can probably point out and name basic shapes pretty easily, and even tell you how many sides each has. But can they make new shapes using a combination of others? Pull out the shape blocks and have your child create a rectangle or triangle. How many triangles do you use to make a square? Do the same with more advanced shapes, like pentagons and trapezoids.

  9. Think patterns

    Is your kindergartner getting much pattern homework? A pattern is something that repeats, like square-circle-square-circle. It turns out, patterns are the foundation of algebraic thinking. And kids need to start early! You can help your child think in terms of patterns by pointing them out in art, music, or on clothing — whenever you notice in a pattern in your environment. Ask questions like, “What comes next to make this pattern repeat?”

  10. Tell me more

    Explaining one’s thinking is a big part of Common Core math. When your child draws a picture to solve a math problem, ask them to explain their drawing and their thinking. Ask, “Where did you get those numbers?” and “Why are you adding instead of subtracting?” Lots of practice will help your child get comfortable explaining their thinking and prepare them for the higher level math that’s just around the corner.

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