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Teaching Math to Kids

Strategies for Teaching Math to Preschoolers and School-Age Children

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Father and son playing with abacus
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Teaching math to your children is as easy as 1+1=2. Go beyond pencil and paper to make math a learning experience that's fun for you and your kids.

Start With Counting
Teaching math begins with your child knowing her numbers. You can help her learn to count with the same strategies you'll be using to teach her math.

She may respond better to memorizing numbers you repeat or she may pick up her numbers by seeing you count objects from 1-10. A method that may work for one of your children might not be right for another. Gauge each child individually.

Once she begins counting, you're ready to start with some basic math principles. She'll be adding and subtracting before you know it.

Use Everyday Objects
You already have everything you need to begin teaching math to your child. Buttons, pennies, money, books, fruit, soup cans, trees, cars -- you can't count the number of objects you have available. Math is easy to teach when you look at all of the physical objects you can count, add, subtract and multiply.

Everyday objects also help you teach your child that objects don't have to be identical to be important in math. Counting apples is a great math lesson, but counting apples, oranges and watermelons together expands her thought process. She's connecting counting with various objects instead of running through a routine numbers game of 1, 2, 3.

Play Math Games
There are plenty of games on the market that promise to aid you in teaching math. Hi Ho Cherry-O and adding dice teach simple addition. Chutes and Ladders introduces children to the numbers 1 to 100.

Advanced math board games come and go so check stores for today's hot games. Classics like Yahtzee, PayDay, Life and Monopoly are always good resources for addition and subtraction.

Some of the best math games come from your own imagination. Play a math scavenger hunt. Use chalk to scribble numbers on the driveway and quiz your kids with math questions they have to answer by running to the correct number. Math can become an activity they enjoy rather than an educational drill.

Bake Cookies
Soft cookies make excellent teaching tools. While you can count the cookies you bake for simple math, a fresh batch is also perfect for teaching fractions.

With a plastic knife, kids can learn how to cut a cookie into eighths, fourths and halves. The act of visually seeing a fourth created as well as them getting to cut that whole into fourths makes an impression in a child's mind.

Use those small cookie pieces to teach her how to add and subtract fractions. For example, 1/4 of a cookie + 1/4 of a cookie = 1/2 of a cookie. Put the pieces together for her to see the cookie half.

An alternative to baking cookies is to use Play-Doh or raw cookie dough. Of course, you can't eat your fractions when you're finished learning math, but you can reuse the molding clay or cookie dough.

Invest in an Abacus
Even the smallest hands love sliding abacus beads back and forth along the wire. An abacus can be used to teach kids addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

With an abacus, kids develop problem-solving skills. There's a logic behind using an abacus so be sure you know what groups of numbers each colored bead represents to accurately use it.

Test Flash Cards
Flash cards can show you what 2+2 equals, but letting kids get hands-on experience with counting may work better. Evaluate your child's learning preferences by trying both flash cards and hands-on experience.

Some children learn better by seeing the answer on a card or counting pictures on a card. Others won't truly get the concept of math until you let them count physical objects. Mix up your math lessons to see which method seems to be working best for your child.

Make Math a Daily Activity
We use math every day. Help your child get the most out of your math lessons when you incorporate it into your daily life.

  • At a red light, how many blue cars do you see?
  • At the grocery store, how many boxes of crackers could we buy if we only have $10?
  • At the doctor's office, how many kids will be left in the waiting room when three are called to the back?
  • If we only ate 1/4 of our lunch, how much would we have left?
  • How much will diapers cost if they're 25% off?
  • On the freeway, how much do the numbers on the license plate in front of us add up to?
  • How many shirts are you putting into the washing machine?
  • If you need to divide eight quarters among four people at the arcade, how many quarters would each person get?
Once you show her how much fun math can be, she'll gain an enthusiasm about learning you can apply to other subjects. Once she enjoys learning, there's no stopping her!
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