Who doesn’t want to give their child a headstart of some of the trickier school subjects? With the underfunded education system producing overflowing classrooms teachers have less time to give individual attention than ever before, so assisting your child at home, especially with concepts where they have difficulty, can be crucial to their scholastic success. You may have taught your child how to count quite high, but how do you make the leap to teaching addition, especially addition where they have to “carry” a digit? Well, one of the easiest ways is using objects.

You don’t need to spend money on flashcards, because you already have tons of objects in your house suitable for use in teaching addition. Anything you can find around 20 of, and fits easily into your child’s hand, can be used. Blocks are perfect.

Teaching addition starts with counting. Give your child some blocks and ask them to count how many they have. (Say, 3) Now tell them that you are going to give them 2 more, and ask how many they think they will have once they get them. Depending on your child’s age and if you have made progress with addition before, he/she may say “2” or “3” or “I don’t know” or some other number. Give him/her the blocks and ask him/her to count all of the blocks he/she now has. When he/she tells you “5”, congratulate your child and say “That’s right: 3 plus 2 is five!” Follow up by writing on a piece of paper the equation “3+2=5” so your child can see what math looks like on paper. After all, that’s how he/she will be expected to do math at school. You can even have your child practice copying the equation, and, once he/she understands better, coming up with the equation all by him/herself.

Teaching the concept of “carrying” digits requires a little more prep work, but not much. Cut some pieces of construction paper into strips, and grab a few envelopes.

Explain to your child the concept of two-digit numbers by explaining how digit placement works. For example, that the number 12 is really 10+2 (something you have already taught using blocks) because the one is in a special spot: the “tens” spot. The 1 really means that the number has one “10”, and the 2 means that two “1”s have to be added to it. Tell your child that each “spot” in a number can only hold nine at a time, and once there is ten, everything has to go to the next spot. This is where your envelopes come in. Label one “tens” and the other “ones”. Give your child a number of paper strips and have them count how many (say, 7). Tell them you are adding 7+4 and give them five more strips. When they start counting the total, stop them when they get to ten, because ten strips cannot fit into the “ones” envelope. Put a rubber band around the strips to make one “ten” and put it in the tens envelope. Write a number “1” on the envelope because it contains one “ten”. Now, count the leftover “ones” and put them in the “ones” envelope, labelling that as well. Putting the envelopes beside each other will show “11”.

If you give your child lots of practice bundling “ones” together into “tens” they will start to understand how “carrying” works. When they grasp the physical concept, show them how it works on paper, and add a “hundreds” envelope as well.

Math doesn’t have to be hard! Give your child a heads-up before then learn it in school!