Math doesn’t have to be scary. A lot of people are scared of math because because they were introduced to math without a proper foundation first. Maybe they were forced to do math without first being shown that math is actually useful. Maybe they were never given a reason to see that is “real”, that it has a value other than helping you pass a test. The suggestions that follow will help parents provide an extremely simple to build foundation for math to their children; a foundation which lets children not only develop more math skills, but to understand that math is genuinely useful and that numbers have a true meaning. Number are not just some symbols that must be memorized and eventually manipulated. Children should learn that numerals are symbols that represent a actual quantity of some real thing. Children find real things are important and tying math to real things will make math important and reduce confusion as well. So let’s get started.

Children learn best when they are dealing with things that they find fun or interesting. Studies also show that children have a “helper gene” baked right into them and that they actually want to help other people. We will take advantage of both of these pieces of knowledge as we build our simple math foundation. The below list are things you can do to lay a proper foundation in math for your child.

- Help your child recognize (read) the numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
- Help your child learn to write the numbers.
- Play “before and after” games with your children. This is as simple as asking them “what number comes after 7″ and then waiting on their response. As long as you know how high they can count themselves then you’ll know the limits of the game. You can spice it up when they get good at it by asking them something like “what number comes two numbers after 3?” which will begin to introduce the concept of adding. The same is true for “before” games and will help lay the groundwork for subtraction.
- Play boardgames or cardgames that require the usage of numbers. Many board games require the players to draw cards that have a number on them, rolling a dice, or spinning a wheel. These involve simple number recognition and can really help drive numeral recognition. The dots on dice are also useful because as the child counts the dots they are able to tie the quantity of dots to the numeral the dots represent. More than one die is even better, because then the child will have opportunities to add while they play.
- As the child can count higher you can make up games to play. For example “play to 20″ or you can let the child make a number between 1-100 and then play a dice game. Each person takes a roll and moves forward on their page that far. Whoever gets to the goal number first wins. Every time someone takes a turn make a point of saying that “I’m at spot 25 and I just rolled a 4 so now I am at spot 29, because 25+4 = 29″ or something along those lines. You can (and should) count your way up “starting at 25, then 26,27,28,29″; better yet, if they try to “help” you count then let them do it and give them gentle correction when they make mistakes! They will want to help, and they will make mistakes. If they win maybe they can choose desert that night or pick the movie… whatever. They’ll appreciate you “playing” with them and they’ll learn in the process!
- Sort coins. Kids are fascinated with coins. At this point you can just sort them and count them. Maybe into stacks of 2s, and 5s, 10s. Then count how many coins you have! They’ll learn to count by 2s, 5s, 10s or whatever size stacks you choose. If they’re old enough you can also let them count the actual value of the money. You can play “estimate it” games with pennies. Dump some pennies on the ground and then ask the to estimate how many there are. You’ll probably get some oddball answers at first (“a bazzillion?!”), but they will quickly get better at it.
- Along with estimating the number of “things” it can also be helpful for them to estimate spacial items. For example, “hey, kiddo. How long do you think that table is?”. Then, once they guess, let them measure. You can either give them a measuring tape, a yard stick, or a ruler. They’ll likely want what you use (you can get pint sized measuring tapes), but they’ll be interested no matter what. If you can explain WHY you need to know even better. They will get bored if you just quiz them all time. They need to think they are either helping or having fun.
- Let children measure things. They can measure whatever their little hearts desire (fun) or they can measure something that you need measured (helpful). You can also plant firmly in their minds the “measure twice, cut once” rule at this time. They’ll think you are just “double checking” they way you always do rather than testing their results. They’ll learn to double check themselves also. Double checking is not math, but it is important for those who do math!
- Let them help you do work around the house. Here we’re taking advantange of their desire to help out again. If you need something in some quantity, then ask them to bring it. Don’t ask for a “a few screws”; ask for 4 screws. Or you can ask them something like “Daddy has to put 4 boards on this fence. Each one will take two screws. Can you bring me enough screws to do the job, kiddo.” Let them sort it out. You might be surprised! Even if they don’t get it right there is a good chance they’ll think about it out loud so you can help them get the process down.

All of these are ideas for ways to enable your kids to learn while having a good time. None of them require any special supplies and many of them can be done repeatedly by simply changing things up a bit. All of these also involve real life skills that your children see you do all the time so none of it feels like being forced to study or do homework.