I have to confess I have hated math for years. But looking back, it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when math was fun. Like most children I enjoyed learning, and learning math came as natural as anything else. Before math became a “subject” it was just a part of the world around me, to be explored like everything else. I hope my children will be able to keep at least some of the joy in learning all things, so we try to incorporate math into other activities.
Counting is probably the first step to learning maths skills. Most families will have counting books to help learn the numbers, and you can also make your own by pasting pictures with the numbers in a small scrapbook. As most children will already be counting to 10 at this age it can be a challenge to find books for the higher numbers. My favourite is the 101 Dalmatians counting book in which the children must find all the hidden dalmatians counting them as they go. Board games will help a child learn basic counting skills without feeling as if they are doing school work. You can make your own board games too. We painted a snakes and ladders style board on a tv table and my son uses Hot wheels cars as markers. We also made a game of counting cars and other toys. My son is a very kinesthetic learner, so counting jumps on a trampoline worked very well for him too. I know other families have used the same idea counting jumps with a jump rope, or stairs as they climb, and we have also counted how many times he can run around something, throw a ball and catch it, etc… We also used the jumping on the trampoline method for skip counting, or counting my 2’s, 5’s, 10’s and 100’s. As he has only just turned 5 this is as far as we go, but it will be used for multiplication at some point too.
Puzzles, shape sorters, blocks and lego will all help develop a child’s skills in maths. I strongly believe in learning through play and would encourage the use of all of these creative toys, along with board games and computer games. Lego, or duplo in particular is wonderful for learning to repeat patterns. You just start a pattern, like “yellow, yellow, blue” and ask the child to continue it.
I have found cooking to be a great way to learn simple maths and especially fractions. Children who help with bake regularly with measuring cups will be very familiar with measurements such as 1/2 a spoonful, 1/4 a cup. You can even show them while cooking that four 1/4 cups will make one cup etc. Cutting shapes with cutters in dough is also fun and a good way to remember the shapes as children can see them, feel them, and even eat them! Pouring and measuring with sand and water works well too.
My children also originally learned addition and subtraction with toys. Five cars + seven cars = 12 cars and so on. Odd and even was explained by showing the even ones had friends, but the odd car was left out. Greater and less than was taught with an alligator puppet who would rather eat the largest number of toys. Then on paper the I started out with cut out crocodiles with the < & > sign part of his gaping mouth. Later we just had teeth on the < and > signs and eventually just the signs alone.
My son also plays many educational programmes on the computer. The absolute best for this age I believe are the Jumpstart programmes and Jumpstart world. You can play some of the Jumpstart World games online for free. We bought a lifetime membership which was expensive, but worthwhile. I would also recommend Jumpstart advanced kindergarten for 4 year olds as it is really fun way to learn maths as well as phonics and other skills.
As my son was only 4 when he started playing the games he would find some math questions too hard. I put a pictures of 30 Thomas the Tank engine and friends trains with numbers on the computer desk. He can use this as a number line to count up for addition and back for subtraction. I do use some worksheets, even though he is quite young because we home educate and Northern Ireland starts full time academic learning at age 4. The number line is a perfect way for him to find the answer. A number line can be made with any subject the child likes, 30 trains like we have, or ponies, robots or anything else. He also uses an abacus which I consider to be an indispensable item for home educators.
Calendar skills were taught by counting off the days until a special event, like our holiday. He checked off each day and counted the days remaining. We will be making our own calender this year, with a picture showing an activity for that month, October will be Halloween, December will be Christmas. We will then draw in a rough picture of something the child does each day and count up blank days to special events. This will of course make a nice keepsake too.
Now that my son can count by 5’s we will be working on telling time. I am looking for a cheap clock at the car boot sale. I will open it up and put in a new face, with something he likes and the numbers in ordinary format plus smaller numbers for the minutes. You can buy clocks already made up like this, but they are expensive here. Then it is just a matter of asking him to keep track of when his favourite show comes on, how many minutes a cake needs to cook, or tell me when it is time to go to the park.
Finally I know 4 seems young for money skills, but when a child learns money will get he or she wants, they will pick up on it very quickly. If you have a jar and explain that when the child gets a certain number of pound coins or dollar bills he can buy a toy, he will very quickly figure out how many is needed. He will also soon understand that the 50p is half a pound and so on. Money is a great motivator. having a bit of pocket money is probably one of the best ways a child can learn math. playing board games that use money will quickly hone basic math skills as well. When a child plays Monopoly, or even Operation, they learn to count out the required amounts of money for each transaction.
I hope some of my ideas have been useful to you, thanks for reading.