How to Create Strong Math Students Before Kids Even Start School
April 22, 2014
How to Create Strong Math Students Before Kids Even Start School

Julie Samrick
Kid Focused

The years before kindergarten are optimal for playing games to create bright students later on. By specifically embracing numbers at an early age don't be surprised when your child is at the top of his math class later on.

Sometimes when we wait to introduce concepts to kids, it takes them longer to grasp.  I'll use potty training as an example. If a child shows the signs of wanting to potty train and we ignore those cues, the child may eventually take longer to learn.

This is what happens to children when they start kindergarten without knowing their letters and numbers.  The building blocks aren't solid and so each year of school that they aren't solid, there's more slippery space for them to not regain footing of the material.  This is one reason there is such a huge gap in learning for children by the time they are in high school.  Some kids can master college level reading and math, while others are reading, writing, and doing math at an elementary level.

Working on numbers with kids as young as 9 months old introduces math concepts. For little ones, start by learning and identifying numbers.

  • For children 9-12 months old, write out numbers 1-10. Say each one as you point to it. Then, ask child if she can point to the 7, for instance. You'll be amazed.
  • Once the numbers 1-10 are learned, scramble the numbers to see if the child can still identify them out of order. This is a process that could take weeks or even months.
  • When kids are 2, write out dashed numbers 1-10 and show how to trace the letters in. Then write dashed numbers 1-10 out again and ask the child to trace them in.  They will not be perfectly in the lines, and that's OK. Their fine motor skills, such as drawing on the line, will get stronger when they get older.
  • When 1-10 is mastered, work on 11-20, then 21-30. By 4 years old, children are capable of recognizing numbers up to 100.
  • Point out numbers everywhere for reinforcement- in books, magazines car thermostats. Say, "This says 50," Or, "That's 17." Remember, they are sponges that are absorbing much more than we see.
  • Show shapes and point out wherever you go, e.g. stop signs are octagons, the cereal box is a rectangle, etc.  Keep on talking to them.  They are listening!
  • Use your finger to move across the numbers left to right.  It helps kids see that numbers move left to right, which will also help them with reading later.
  • By 3 years old, you can ask a child to find page numbers in books and magazines.  "Where is page 7?"  "Where is page 22?"  Kids seem to have the hardest time grasping the teen numbers, or 11-19.  The one before the number can throw them off.  Don't be surprised when this happens.  The earlier you work on numbers with young children, the earlier they will grasp this. 
  • Ask your child to pick up 5 things at clean up time and count with him as he does this. As kids get older, ask them to pick up 10, 15, 20 things at pickup. This helps them with numbers, but also with good citizenship. For some reason, my kids are more likely to pick up when we do it this way. I think they like breaking up the process by focusing on a number, instead of just saying, "Clean up your toys."
  • Alternate counting between you and your child. You say,"1." Point to your child for what's next and she should say, "2."  Go back and forth between you until she gets stuck and then you know how high she can count. 
  • When children are five years old you can then alternate counting by 5s, 10s, as age-appropriate.  10, 20, 30, 40 will be easier than 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30.  My five-year-old is currently working on 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12.  Learning this will help them grasp their multiplication tables in third grade more easily.
  • With 4-year-olds ask, "Which number is bigger, 77 or 68?" Any number combinations up to 100.  This can be done driving in the car or when you're making dinner.  This is another easy game that can be done just about anytime, anywhere.
  • 4 year olds can practice adding and subtracting on fingers.  Soon they will be able to add 2+1 in their head and then they will know their addition facts by memory from all the practice by the time their first grade teacher expects them to.
  • Work on 1 or 2 digit carrying in addition at 5 years old or so.  First start on the right and move to the left- tell them this is the opposite of how we read.  Even though your child can look at the following problem and add 1+1 and then 0+1 to get 21, it helps to get him in the habit of adding 0+1 and then 1+1 because when he is carrying larger numbers later, he'll already be in the habit of moving right to left.

    + 11

    This will logically lead to carrying, like this


    Work on 1 or 2 digit carrying in subtraction at 7 years old or so.  Teach them to check their work by adding the answer and the bottom number.

    - 4
      9  (9 + 4 = 13)

  • Bake cookies together- count your stirs, eggs cracked, just keep counting. The repetition and patterns are great for kids' brains.
  • Find a reason to count everywhere you go. Count stairs climbed; count the dark squares on the grocery store floor in an aisle.  This will lead to counting change, etc.  Just keep counting.
  • Teach kids in 3rd grade and up how to read recipes and let them give it a try.
  • Ask multiplication while playing catch or while jumping on the trampoline. When kids are bouncing or doing some sort of physical activity, studies show they often remember concepts better.
  • Play cashier: Have 7-year-olds and older make change for you.

Try these easy, fun ways to help your children be strong math students later on today while they're still young. No expensive materials or tons of formal study time needed.

Julie Samrick
is a stay-at-home mom of four young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues.  Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox and connect with us on Facebook too.  Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 9:02 AM