“I don’t like this rice, anymore. It has green things on it,” my preschooler said. She had eaten that exact rice almost every week and often asked for seconds. But as my daughter became more independent each day, she began to relish in her new decision-making skills. More foods were crossed off the menu by my newfound picky-eater.
But as I’ve found with my own family, grownups can get clever during this independent phase of a child’s development. We find ways to get those nutritious foods into our picky-eater’s meals until they are ready to give broccoli another chance down the road. Pancakes become pumpkin pancakes, pizza is topped with vegetables, and cake turns into carrot cupcakes, leaving our little ones filled-up and sometimes blissfully unaware that they’ve just had a full serving of healthy vegetables.
It seems that kids have a keen sense of when adults are trying to teach or help them. Consider my two-year-old, whose new favorite phrase is, “no, I do it myself,” as she skips numbers when counting to 10. Could I infuse math into our routine in the same way I sometimes sneak vegetables into their food? I figured I would give it a try.
One night, in an effort to get my children to brush their teeth, I said, “let’s use the stopwatch on my phone. I’ll hold it in my hand and when you think it’s been 10 seconds tell me to hit ‘stop’. Let’s see who can get closest.” They liked it. We did it again. In fact, we got two-minutes worth of fuss-free tooth brushing and worked on counting at the same time.
You are your child’s first and most important teacher. As Parenting Minutes: Early Math reminds us, you have the skills to incorporate early learning in whatever language you speak at home. Most young children are naturally interested in math as it exists in the world around them already. Parents can harness that excitement for math into their everyday routines.
Turns out, there are plenty of ways for me to incorporate early learning math skills into my children’s everyday routine…without being a mathematician. Here are eight quick, everyday ideas to get you started on practicing early math skills with your child:
- “I spy the number…” To promote number recognition, play “I Spy” at the store. As you walk down the aisle, call out a number and see if your child can find it. Then, take turns and have them call out a number for you to find.
- Go on a shape hunt. As you are walking around your neighborhood, riding the bus, or driving in the car, search for different shapes and patterns. For example, doors are rectangles, stop signs are octagons and street lights are circles.
- Use laundry to promote matching and sorting. Parenting Minutes: Early Math shows how laundry time can turn into learning time. By matching socks, your child will be practicing shape, color and size comparison. Break down the large pile of laundry into “shirts,” “pants,” “pajamas” to practice sorting skills.
- Counting opportunities are everywhere. Whether counting the number of steps in a staircase, the number of Cheerios entering a bowl, or the amount of dogs you pass in the park, help your child learn to count from 1-10 in whatever language you speak at home.
- Make comparisons. “Is there more water in this cup or that cup?” or “which book is heavier?” are all simple ways to compare two objects by weight, size and height.
- Chart the weather for a week. Practice making a small paper calendar. Have your little one draw a picture of the daily weather. Ask them to compare the different weather days.
- Look at a map. We are always on the go. Have your child help in navigating to the next soccer practice, post office visit, or grocery store trip. Use a computer, phone or paper map. Point out the starting point and destination.
- Take a family survey. At the end of the day, take a survey of how the day went for each member of the family. Before watching something together, survey members to see what they want to watch. These simple activities will get your family talking, while also promoting data collection, counting and comparison skills.
You don’t have to be a math wiz to support your child’s early learning. Numbers and shapes are all around us. Having fun with learning will make those early connections to build a lifelong love of math!