Common Core Standards don’t exist for preschoolers, but teachers — and parents — should still be preparing children for the mathematical thinking needed they’ll need when they start kindergarten.

Here are the 8 basic math skills your preschooler should learn before starting kindergarten:

  • Count, recognize, and write numbers from 0 to 20.
  • Add and subtract numbers from 0 to 10.
  • Identify triangles, squares, rectangles, and circles and recognize those shapes in nature.
  • Learn the spatial concepts such as top, bottom, under, over, front, back, behind and size concepts like big, bigger, biggest and tiny, medium, giant.
  • Understand that clocks measure time (minutes, hours). Know the days of the week, some of the months, and the four seasons.
  • Organize objects into groups that share similarities (like color, shape, size, smooth versus rough, heavy versus light, etc.).
  • Identify and create patterns using objects (such as Legos or food), music, jumping games, and dance moves.
  • Starting to learn the concept of measuring — be it their height (taller than my baby brother), their speed (faster when I run than when I walk), or quantities (more or less).

Make it count

Preschoolers don’t have to master lots of math facts, but they should get familiar with numbers 0 to 10, including counting up to 10 objects as well as recognizing and writing the written numbers up to 10. They also should be starting to informally add and subtract numbers from 0-5. You can help your child by always pointing to real objects while you’re counting and not just chanting 1, 2, 3 like a song. It’ll also help to ask your child to try simple math problems with toys or food.

For example: We have three trucks. Now we add one more. How many do we have now? When we count, what comes after four?

Every child is spatial

Kids at this age begin learning about geometric shapes: not only recognizing and naming circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles, but also by noticing them in nature. You can help your child master this skill by looking for different shapes on walks to the park or trips to the grocery store. Another important component of spatial learning? Understanding the many words we use to describe space, such as: over and under, inside and outside, edge and corner.

Measure for measure

While preschoolers are not yet expected to read a clock or double a cookie recipe, they are learning the basic concepts about measuring time, speed, and distance. In addition to understanding what a clock measures (hours, minutes) and what a calendar measures (days, months), your child should also understand basic units, such as miles, inches, feet, cups, pounds, teaspoons, etc. To help your child develop these skills, talk about all the different ways you measure things in your everyday life: You’ve grown 2 inches since I last measured you! This recipe calls for two cups of sugar, that seems like too much!

Patterns and sets

Recognizing and creating patterns is at the core of all mathematical thinking so every preschooler should play with patterns regularly. Using their growing knowledge of numbers, shapes, and colors, preschoolers should be able to sort groups of similar objects (3 black beans, 4 pinto beans) and then recognize, repeat, extend, and create simple patterns. For instance, lining up 2 red beads followed by one blue bead (red, red, blue, red, red, blue, etc.) or clapping out a repeating rhythm both count as practicing patterns for preschoolers.

Final bit of advice

Helping your child master preschool math should be fun, and above all, easy. No drill and kill necessary. Simply using math words like the names of shapes, spatial words like behind, above, and under, and counting objects aloud — and playing simple math games (like how many cars do we have when we take one away?) — you can make sure your child is learning these basic concepts. It’s more about incorporating math into everyday life than sitting down and practicing math problems.

Or as veteran teacher Della Smith at Katherine Smith School in San Jose, California, recommends: Discuss these concepts during your daily life. How many socks are in the laundry? What colors are you wearing today? What is the shape of that sign? Simple conversations about these things will do the trick!

Check out these tips to help your child learn shapes and spatial relations.


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