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How to Teach Your Child Early Math Concepts

Updated on October 31, 2012

Parental Roles in Teaching Math

Whether you realize it or not, your child will begin to learn math concepts from the beginning of their lives. As the parent, it is important for you not only to recognize these innate abilities in your child, but foster their development as well. Do not allow yourself to think that you are not a "math person" and cannot begin to help your child develop math sense. These are basic, early concepts that any parent can help their child to develop.

Children have a keen sense of their surroundings from birth. Very early on they begin to recognize colors, patterns, and various shapes. Even before your child has the ability to speak, it is critical to start building upon these early math concepts.

What are early math concepts?

Early math concepts are the foundational concepts that children need to know in order to be successful later in their mathematical learning. Although these ideas may seem trivial and basic, the understanding of each of these is essential for a strong mathematical sense as they move into deeper into their math experiences.

So how do you know what the important concepts are that you should be working on with your child even before he or she starts a formal education? You probably are doing some of it now and may not even realize it. Counting, identifying numbers, creating and identifying patterns, and sorting are all important math tasks for young children. So here are some ideas for how to incorporate the learning of these math concepts into fun, yet meaningful learning tasks for your child.

Books for Early Math Concepts

Using Books to Teach Early Math Concepts at Home

I am a huge advocate of using literature for any sort of learning activity. Reading books that talk about numbers, shapes, patterns, sorting are a great way to help children learn about early math concepts.

It is important that you not only read the words on the page, but discuss the content of the pages with your child. The process of asking questions is so much more valuable to your child than simply feeding your child with information. Some questions may include:

  1. What do you notice about the shapes on the page?
  2. Can you guess what might come next in this line of shapes?
  3. How would you put these objects (or animals or anything really) into different groups?
  4. What do you notice on these pages?

These are all open ended questions that allow your child to give you more than just a yes or a no response. By allowing them to provide you with some explanations to their thinking, they are becoming more critical thinkers which is important for learning in general.

The Importance of Puzzles in Early Math

Puzzles help children (and adults) develop logic and reasoning skills. These are critical for helping children understand the relationship that numbers have with one another. Putting together puzzles are a great way to help young children to develop these critical thinking skills early in life.

For young children, start with simple wooden puzzles that represent shapes or numbers. This provides a two fold opportunity for them to learn both the numerical representation of a number or a shape. Even if you have simple wooden puzzles of animals or vehicles, the manipulation of the puzzle piece into the the correct hole is a reasoning skill that will be built as your child puts together the puzzle.

Foam Blocks for Patterning and Classifying

Classifying and Patterning Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Example of an A, B pattern.A group of objects to sort.Sorted by size.Sorted by color.Sorted by type of animal.
Example of an A, B pattern.
Example of an A, B pattern. | Source
A group of objects to sort.
A group of objects to sort. | Source
Sorted by size.
Sorted by size. | Source
Sorted by color.
Sorted by color. | Source
Sorted by type of animal.
Sorted by type of animal. | Source

Classifying Objects and Patterning in Math

Math is all about making connections. The more connections that you can make, the deeper the understanding that you will have. Helping young children to build these connections will allow them to have a stronger mathematical foundation than those children who are not provided these opportunities.

Creating these experiences for your child can be easy and fun. When working with my own children, as well as my students, I use whatever objects I can find around the house or at dollar stores. Buttons, fruit, gummy fruit or even candy can be great objects to sort and classify. Simple give your child a pile of one of these objects and ask him to show you how you could put them in different groups. Again, by keeping this open ended, you are allowing the child to come up with the way of classifying, not limiting him to a color, shape or size.

You can then take those same objects and create an A, B pattern. An A,B pattern is an alternating pattern such as red, blue, red, blue, then ask, "what do you think comes next?" As your child becomes comfortable with this task, you can increase the level of difficultly by adding another element or by asking the child to create his own pattern.

Your Child's First Teacher

You are your child's first teacher. The more opportunities that you provide your child for learning, the better off they will be as they enter the world of formal education. These can and should be fun experiences for everyone. The more that you make these activities into games or projects, the more that the concepts will resonate and stay with your child.


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    • twoseven profile image


      5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Great ideas! My three year old is so into sorting right now. I really like your suggestion of keeping it open ended and seeing what they come up with.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Math is such an important subject for our kids today. Math and science teachers were heavily recruited for awhile. This is a great Hub for parents. Simple activities can mean so much when using manipulatives. It is impossible to teach math concepts without them. Great job! Shared for sure! Vote+ interesting, useful.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      5 years ago from North Carolina

      You are such a great teacher and mom, Cara. I'm so proud of you. I especially love your last paragraph, "YOU are your child's first teacher!" Well said. Up/U/I/A

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I always enjoy reading educational hubs. Yours are always so interesting and full of wonderful idea for teaching challenging concepts. Love your suggestions on how puzzles help to learn basic math.


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