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Commentary: No excuses, your kid should be ready for math before kindergarten

Basic math skills like counting, geometry and algebraic thinking can be easily mastered, say three experts in developmental psychology.

BALTIMORE, Maryland: Parents play a critical role in their children’s early math education. 

They not only can provide math-related toys and games, but serve as role models demonstrating how math is used in everyday activities.

Children who see their parents doing everyday math engage more often in math activities. This, in turn, builds early math skills, which serve as the foundation for later learning.

Opportunities for learning these skills are everywhere – and there are simple, enjoyable activities that parents can lead to foster these skills. So there’s no reason why kids shouldn’t have some basic math skills at the start of kindergarten.

Parents can help their children acquire the age-appropriate vocabulary and skills needed for learning math, while ensuring their kids are engaged and have fun.


According to the college and career-ready standards in our state, Maryland, children are expected to demonstrate simple counting skills before starting kindergarten.

These skills include counting to 20; ordering number cards; identifying without counting how many items are in a small set; and understanding that quantity does not change regardless of how a set of items is arranged.

Children also will need to learn cardinality. That means they should understand that the last item counted represents the number of items in the set.

Counting and cardinality can be easily integrated into daily life. Children can count their toys as they clean up or count how many steps it takes to walk from the kitchen to their bedroom. Parents can point out numbers on a clock or phone.

In the grocery store, parents can ask children to find numbers while shopping. In the car, parents can have children read the numbers on license plates or count passing cars. Parents should ask, “How many?” after a child has counted, to reinforce the idea of cardinality.

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Children play with toys during a Walmart event in New York City on Aug 30, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Board games are helpful and fun ways to hone counting and cardinality skills. Have children identify the number on the die or spinner when they take their turn and count aloud when they move their piece. Active games that involve counting aloud – like jump rope, hopscotch or clapping – also foster these skills.


Kindergartners are expected to solve simple addition and subtraction problems using objects.

Parents can have children do simple math problems during everyday tasks. For example, they can ask children to take out the correct number of plates or utensils when setting the table for dinner.

Remember, the math language children hear matters. Parents can ask questions like, "How many more plates do we need?"

During play, parents can use toys and say things like, "I’m going to give you one of my cars. Let’s count how many cars you have now.” Songs and rhymes that include counting up or counting down can also be useful for teaching early addition and subtraction.

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Counting fingers and toes is a great way to emphasise the numbers one through 10. Money, coins in particular, is another great way to emphasise the idea that 10 is made out of 10 “ones”.

Parents can play store with their children using pennies and have them “purchase” toys for differing amounts of pennies. During play, they can talk about how many toys they can buy with 10 cents.

Kindergartners are expected to sort objects by their features – like shape, colour and size – or identify the feature by which objects have been sorted. They also are expected to order objects by some measurable feature, such as from bigger to smaller.

Teacher and children at a pre-school in Singapore. (File photo: TODAY) Children at a pre-school in Singapore. (File photo: TODAY)

In the kitchen, children can begin experimenting with measurement using spoons or cups. Children can sort utensils, laundry or toys as they put them away.

Additionally, kindergartners should be able to compare objects and use language like more than or less than, longer or shorter, and heavier or lighter.

Parents can help by using these words to emphasise comparisons. When children are helping with tasks, parents can ask questions like, “Can you hand me the biggest bowl?” or “Can you put the smaller forks on the table?”

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Early geometry skills include naming and identifying 2D shapes like circles, squares and triangles. Children also need to realise that shapes of different sizes, orientations and dimensions are similar.

Children should be able to recognise that a circle is like a sphere and use informal names like “box” and “ball” to identify three-dimensional objects.

Parents can draw children’s attention to shapes found in the environment. On a walk, parents can point out that wheels are circles and then have children find other circles in the environment.

Puzzles, blocks and Legos are another great way to help build early spatial skills.

Susan Sonnenschein is professor in applied development psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Rebecca Dowling is a doctoral student in applied developmental psychology at the same university. Shari Renee Metzger is a research analyst at Prince George’s Community College.

This commentary first appeared in The Conversation. Read it here.

Source: CNA/sl