Preparing Young Children for Learning Math

Question: There is so much information everywhere about how to get your child ready to read. Should I be teaching my 3-year-old son to count to get him ready to do math? - Math Readiness

Answer: Teaching young children to count is just one of many steps in preparing them to handle math when they start school. The purpose of rote counting is to teach children the names of the numbers so they'll have the words to describe quantities. Begin teaching your young son to count from one through 10, as he will be expected to count at least that high when he starts kindergarten.

Beyond rote counting, your son has to learn that numbers have more meaning than just repeating them like a parrot. Your home is full of objects that he can count. Have him determine the number of wheels on a toy car or the number of lights in a room by counting them. Also, ask him to count objects in picture books as you read to him.

Counting is not the most basic of mathematical skills that your son needs to acquire. The most basic is sorting. When he can put a group of objects together because they belong together in some way, he has started down the road to understanding mathematics.

Most parents automatically involve their children in sorting activities. You are doing this when you have your son help you put the laundry into piles according to ownership or color.

Beyond using the laundry for sorting activities, your young son can sort different kinds of pasta into piles and sort multi-colored cereals or candies by color. As he gets older, his sorting can become more sophisticated. Pictures can be cut from magazines and divided into different categories, such as indoor and outdoor toys.

Your son also needs to learn that things can be ordered in many different ways, as it will lead him to understand that numbers can be ordered. Start by showing him a collection of two objects (shoes, books, balls) and ask him to tell you which is larger. Then ask him which is smaller. Also, use other comparisons like taller and shorter, and wider and narrower. As he becomes older and more skilled, increase the number of objects that he needs to put in size order. Spaghetti pieces and drinking straws are a good choice for this activity.