by Beverly Cole - Monday, August 17th, 2015 @ 8:54 AM

I am not talking about home schooling my kids. Hat seriously off to anyone who accepts sole responsibility for his or her child’s education.  Instead, my goal has been to enrich and encourage my children’s math awareness. I have found that if I work with my kids for little pockets of time (like even 15 minutes) and do it in a way that is entertaining, they look forward to, even love, having their math time.  I am not a math teacher or really any teacher, so you don’t have to be either. I just like introducing mathematical concepts to my kids before their schools do, and they love to get ahead of their classes.

My suggestions are for younger children (since at 5 and 8 that’s what I’ve got), but can certainly be geared toward older ones.  I just started early because tiny brains are sponges, and connection, experience, and growth are critical in the first few years of life.  Teaching is also a great way to spend time, especially on stormy days that can seem endless. It’s never too early to start, but if you didn’t do that, no worries! It’s not too late to start either!

1.  Early Start. Pretty much by the time my kids were grasping words, their math education had begun. What did this mean back in the day when they’re just mastering walking, and I am still introducing solid foods? At this point, I added numbers to their first words to start them counting.  We would count everything we saw – jars, diapers, apples at the store – and point out numbers in everything. At the check out lines in grocery stores, my husband would carry our daughter and randomly stop at different checkout aisles, asking her to identify the number hanging in that aisle. Then we would separate numbers and colors, categorizing everything by similarities. Once our kids could handle crayons, I showed them how to write their numbers. They thought it was hysterical when I used a medieval themed Etch-A-Sketch to draw the numbers up to 20 and had them guess what the number would be before the night or dragon erased it. For early geometry, School Zone has a great, inexpensive workbook for identifying shapes, and small kids can spend hours finding varying geometric shapes all over your home and anywhere else you go.
2. Ordering. The next step was to introduce the concept that numbers have order and relate to one another. Once they could count to ten, we used connect-the-dot books, so our toddlers could understand that numbers come one after another. We began talking about ordinal numbers so that they could better understand placement. Curious George cartoons actually helped a lot. There are some wonderful episodes involving ordinal numbers and number values. Besides, who doesn’t love Curious George?
3. Arithmetic. Once my kids were fully comfortable with identifying and counting numbers, I started the process of teaching them to add things together. This was a very visual process for us at the beginning. I would set out one object, then add another object and have the kids count them.  We would do this with larger numbers, and once they felt comfortable with adding (then subtracting), I would take away the visual cues and allow them to add and subtract in their heads. When the kids became “expert” at counting and adding and subtracting simple numbers, I moved them on to counting by numbers other than one, so that they could ultimately count by every single digit in sets up to 100.

These steps help build an easy transition to multiplying. Consequently, I never had my kids memorize the multiplication table. Instead, they placed “sets” of items together in their heads. So three sets of eight would be. . . .8, 16, 24. Voila! Multiplication! Division was just the opposite.
4. Funbooks! Okay, they’re actually called workbooks, but who wants to do something voluntarily that starts with the word “work”?  I’ve used them with my kids since they were able to write numbers, and they help give structure to our at-home math education. Again, we do not sit down for hours at a time with our workbooks- just a couple times a week for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time. It doesn’t sound like much, but after a few years, your child has learned a lot of math. There are different styles of workbooks, but we have used Singapore Math workbooks, which you can purchase on Amazon and are relatively inexpensive (free shipping for Prime Members! : ))

5. Spatial Relations. Teaching your kids numerical ability skills is practical and in many ways logical to small kids. Spatial relation skills may not come as readily, so introducing these at home can be tremendous preparation for school. We used games to help develop these skills. First, we started using tangrams (colorful pieces that fit into various pictures) when the kiddos were about three years old. They have varying levels of difficulty that reach expert levels that are challenging for adults. Tangrams utilize different skills than arithmetic and enhance a different set of abilities like geometry and spatial reasoning.  We used these tangrams to start, and the kids had a lot of fun with them.

Second, Sudoku, basically a numbers crossword puzzle, is a fun math game that is also able to scale itself from simple to complex. It enables a child to look at numbers from a different perspective, showing them how they can relate to one another in various ways at the same time. There are numerous free, on-line printable Sudoku games, like this one.
6. Money – At a toy store one day, I was surprised to see an 11-year-old boy had no concept of what change he should receive from a cashier. That weekend, I started teaching our kids about money – the value of coins and paper and how to use it and receive change. Our kids enjoyed this toy cash register for years:

In addition to coin recognition, it provides arithmetic and place value games.

Whatever math you choose with which to engage your kids, please make sure you and your kids are having fun. As with most challenges, math can be frustrating, so take your time. Comprehension will come, and your kids will have a wonderful and practical skill they will use for a lifetime.


About the Author

Beverly Cole Beverly Cole

Beverly Cole is the Communications Director of English Hound (, a NY based distance learning company specializing in tutoring K - 12th grade students in reading and writing. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University School of Law. She lives in Florida with her husband and two children.

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