No one questions the importance of developing of early math skills. Proficiency in basic arithmetic of whole numbers and fractions is expected throughout a child’s academic career, and early experiences can make all the difference.

How do you engage your child’s natural curiosity?

Standard drills using pencil and paper have their place, providing repetition that is necessary to master a skill, but they are not likely to spark your child’s interest. Much more effective in this regard are hands-on activities that require mathematical thinking. Here are six ways that you can help your child develop early math skills:

  1. Base Ten Blocks

    Base Ten Blocks can be purchased or made at home with wood or Styrofoam. A set consists of single cubes for counting by ones, sticks of 10 cubes for counting by tens, flats of 100 cubes for counting by hundreds and large blocks of 1,000 cubes for counting by thousands. For a book containing dozens of activities using the blocks go to (click on “Math” and then “Base Ten”).

  2. Change

    First make sure that your child understands the value of each of the coins — pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. After giving your child an adequate number of each type of coin, give her an amount that she must come up with using the coins she has been given. For example, if you give a value of 40 cents, she could use four dimes as a solution to the problem. As her skill increases, add new challenges. For example, how many different ways can you make 40 cents? Can you come up with 38 cents using only nickels, dimes, and quarters? Why or why not?

  3. Rearrangements

    For this exercise. you need three identical objects that can be labeled A, B and C. Start by having your child order the objects from left to right, i.e., ABC. Then let him see how many different ways he can rearrange the objects. For example, swapping the first and last object gives the new configuration CBA. Give your child some crayons and paper to record the different configurations. After he has found them all (there are six) see if you and your child can develop an orderly way to come up with the different configurations. For an extra challenge, try four objects labeled A, B, C, and D (There are twenty-four different configurations).

  4. Quotient and remainder

    Grab a handful of M&M’s (or Cheerios for a healthier version). Give your child a number of M&M’s, and have her divide them into groups of a smaller number. For example, if you give her 26 M&M’s and ask her to divide them into even groups of three, she should have eight groups of three with two M&M’s left over. The number of groups (eight) is called the quotient and the number of remaining M&M’s that cannot be put into a group is called the remainder (two). You can provide a little incentive by letting your child eat the remainders if she solves the problem within a certain time limit.

  5. Even and odd

    Ask your child to divide a number of M&M’s into groups of two. Now there are only two possible values for the remainder. Either there are none left over and the remainder is zero, or there is one left over and the remainder is one. (Why can’t two be left over?) When we divide a number by two and get a remainder of zero we say the number is even. When we get a remainder of one, we say it is odd.

  6. Pizzas

    Buy about three pizzas (anything that can be divided into equal parts will work, but pizzas are fun and kid-friendly) and make sure your child invites some friends — he’ll need help eating all that pizza! Have your child cut the first pizza into two equal parts, the second into three equal parts, and the third into four equal parts. Then explain that even though each of them has been divided into a different number of pieces, each is still one whole pizza. For example, if you take a pizza and cut it into two pieces, two out of two pieces is one pizza, or 22 = 1. Similarly, 33 = 1, 44= 1 and so on. This demonstrates the important property that whenever the numerator and denominator of a fraction are the same, the fraction is equal to one. Be sure your child understands this idea because it will help him in further studies of fractions.