Are you overwhelmed with helping children learn mathematics? Discover effective ways to create a math rich environment at home.
Look through my home and you’ll find evidence of the many ways I try to encourage my kids to keep learning. You’ll see shelves of children’s books, an alphabet rug in their bedroom, and artwork proudly displayed on the wall. Reading has also become such an ingrained part of our day, especially with our bedtime routine.
So imagine my surprise when I realized how little I focused on math.
For all my efforts to encourage early literacy, I had overlooked creating a math rich environment for my kids. Sure, I had a few number magnets on the fridge, but we hardly talked about math the way we’d read books throughout the day.
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It seems I’m not alone, either. In her book, Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age, author Maya Thiagarajan noticed a difference between the way eastern and western cultures set their priorities. (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book.)
While the west focuses on literacy and reading, the east hones in on math and numbers. You may have noticed this yourself, from early literacy campaigns for children to the many cartoons geared at helping them read. You likely have a bedtime routine and shelves of books, but no routine dedicated to math.
Helping children learn mathematics with a math-rich home
Well, I wanted a better balance, one that encourages both literacy and math at home. I had been neglecting an important set of skills I wanted my kids to develop. And I learned that creating a math rich environment is pretty easy to do.
Here are a few ideas on how to create a math rich environment in your own home. I list them below in order of youngest to oldest so you can better gauge which activities to try first:
Play with building blocks
Lego and building blocks are fantastic toys that encourage math awareness. They help develop your child’s visual-spatial skills and introduce three-dimensional problem solving.
Your baby learns that stacking 10 blocks is more likely to topple compared to stacking two. Your preschooler creates an “airplane” with Lego, now aware that balancing the wings equally makes it less likely to tip to the side. Give your child building blocks, even from an early age.
Point out patterns
Patterns are everywhere. I flipped open a children’s book and found a checkerboard pattern lining the inside of the cover. “What pattern is this making?” I asked my kids. “Black, white, black, white…” they pointed.
Point out patterns on the ground, in the stripes of your child’s shirt, in the way the trees line the sidewalk. You can even make a verbal game by saying, “Apple, banana, orange, apple banana, orange, apple…?” and have them answer the next piece of the pattern.
Count numbers out loud
Counting in order may feel like memorizing a string of numbers that don’t make sense. Still, kids need to learn the names of numbers and what they mean, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to count out loud.
You can fill your entire day counting numbers. Count how many…
- Seconds he washes his hands
- Pretzels you put in his snack bag
- Chairs are in your home (make it a game!)
- Circles are on his sippy cup
- Blocks he can stack
- Times he can jump
Play with puzzles
From jigsaw puzzles to shape sorters, puzzles teach kids all about math. The toddler pushing the triangle through the circle hole realizes he has better luck matching it elsewhere instead. Piecing a 20-piece jigsaw puzzle encourages strategy and finding the right order.
As your child grows, don’t be afraid to offer challenging puzzles. I once held back giving my kids puzzles with more pieces because I assumed it was too hard for them. Only later did they prove me wrong!
Draw and talk about shapes
Once your child is able to draw, encourage him to draw shapes. Play a game by saying a shape and asking him to draw it.
Another idea, especially if he can’t yet draw, is to identify shapes. Draw shapes, then have him point out or color them in, depending on what you say: “Where’s the rectangle?” or “Color the triangle orange!”
And don’t feel limited by basic shapes, either. Introduce all sorts of shapes, especially once he has the hang of the basic ones. Draw pentagons and hexagons, lines and domes, stars and trapezoids.
Create math problems in everyday conversation
I was packing the kids’ school lunches when I reached into our fruit bowl. “Let’s count how many bananas are in the bunch,” I suggested. After we determined there were seven, I removed three and asked, “We had seven in the bunch, and I just took three. How many are left?”
Like words and literacy, math and numbers are everywhere—we just have to find the opportunity to explore them further. Look for simple ways to present math problems in your everyday life. Count each cracker you put in their snack plate, or talk about which family member is taller than whom.
Use a measuring tape
Household items make for simple math exercises! Use a measuring tape to show your child how long certain things are. For instance, measure a toy car and count that it has two inches,, while your coffee table has 36.
Play board games
Simple board games encourage your child to count, especially as he moves up along the board. I’ve been playing the Life board game with my four-year-old twins—they spin the wheel, identify the number, and count the spaces as they move. We don’t follow the rules exactly, and instead keep it simple and focus on moving our pieces up the board.
You can also play strategy games like Connect 4 and chess. Explain the basic rules, then have your child think about different strategies. There’s no one way to move the game forward—each move can have countless possibilities to win.
Write math problems on a board or workbook
We have this Ikea easel where I like to write simple math problems for my kids to solve. Don’t feel restricted to using numbers only, either. You can explain how to solve 1 + 2 by drawing one and two circles, then counting them all together.
I also like to give my kids workbooks, from simple ones that let them trace numbers to those that talk about shapes and sizes.
Come up with strategies for word problems
Word problems take math and apply them to real-life situations. Rather than asking what 15 – 6 is, a word problem can ask: “I have 15 crayons, and I gave you 6. How many do I have now?”
Encourage your child to come up with different strategies to get to an answer. Both of you can even come up with two separate strategies and discuss how you got your answers.
For instance, your child might draw 15 circles and cross out 6. Meanwhile, you take 15 actual crayons and set aside 6. These are different strategies geared toward finding the answer.
I always appreciate when I can read a book and learn something surprising about the way I’ve been teaching my kids. I hadn’t considered whether I was even making a conscious effort to create a math rich environment. Now I can see how easy it is to integrate math into my daily life.
Simple things like counting numbers to playing Lego can be all your child needs to develop math skills. Weaving math into everyday problems and working on puzzles build it right into your routine. After all, creating a math rich home is just as important as making sure our kids learn the alphabet.
One thing’s for sure: Just as I’ll read to my kids at bedtime, so too will I count bananas in a fruit bowl and play a game of Life.
Get more tips:
- Beyond the Tiger Mom by Maya Thiagarajan
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
- Top Ways to Help Kids Remember What They Learn
- The Secret to Raising Hard Working Kids Is Easier than You Think
- How to Teach Kids to Embrace Mistakes
Tell me in the comments: How are you helping children learn mathematics at home?
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