Parenting Matters: A meaningful, positive beginning in math

Unfortunately, math isn’t everyone’s favorite subject. It almost as if we start saying negative things about math when a child first begins to learn math. When we do that, it influences how a child thinks about math.

But recent studies have been far more positive about math and its importance in our society today. Having an understanding of “basic math concepts is a strong predictor of later achievement for children entering school” (Society for Research in Child Development). Some experts believe that knowledge of math concepts may even be a more important predictor of school success than early reading ability.

Math skills are important for nearly every task we perform and jobs are requiring a higher math skill than ever before.

It is important to incorporate math in a positive way into your child’s daily life. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) have issued a joint position statement that states, “High-quality, challenging, and accessible mathematics education for 3- to 6-year-old children is a vital foundation for future mathematics learning.”

So where do we begin? The pressure is on for parents and caregivers of young children — adults who are already overwhelmed and stressed trying to read every day, teach manners and social skills, provide lots of healthy play, encourage nutritious eating and now have one more thing to add to their responsibilities — math skills!

Teaching math concepts can be an easy task when it is incorporated into most of the things that caregivers are already doing. One way your child learns is when you point out how math is used in everyday life.

There is math in sports or when you buy treats or make other kinds of purchases.

Games are a fun way to learn math. Cards and board games that use counting and paper money improve mental math skills. Children sort crayons, count toys, stack things, fill and pour water or sand. We play matching games, talk about big and little, tall and short, and make patterns with little cars (example: “two cars, one truck, two cars, one truck, etc.”).

These are just a few of the skills that are needed to build a strong foundation in math concepts.

Setting goals by the numbers

Even the United States Department of Education encourages three easy goals for you to set that can help you challenge your child and expand his math skills:

1. Look for math everywhere

Discuss measurements when you prepare a recipe. Compare prices on cereal boxes at the store when you’re shopping with your children. Have your preschooler find a certain brand of cereal on sale and point out that the ounces on the box has to match the coupon that you have. Count the pieces of a cake and talk with your child about how you get more pieces if you cut them smaller. Discuss sporting events and talk about points. Play games that have counting spaces to move ahead. You probably are already doing many of these things and just didn’t connect the math.

2. Make math fun

Children seem to enjoy playing with numbers. Children learn by doing and the more they do, the more they learn. Divide a napkin into fourths with a marker or crayon and have a preschooler put one animal cracker in each space for the afternoon treat when entertaining his friends. Count houses that are blue or count stop signs. Have children sort socks into piles of big socks or small socks.

3. Ask lots of questions

“I wonder how many cookies I can fit in this container?” Use open-ended questions — those that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” response — that help children think about solving a problem using math. “If we have to be at Grandma’s at 2:30 and it takes about 15 minutes to get there, what time do you think we should leave?” “

We only have 6 chairs for the table including our spare one. How many children do you think you can have at your birthday if everyone needs a seat?”

Another great and fun way to learn math is at a First Teacher Block Fest. These fun events for parents and children help both learn ways to make math fun and meaningful.

Children are natural-born problem solvers. They will learn easiest and best if we encourage them to find some answers on their own.

It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money on workbooks and mathematics flash cards. Everyday life can provide all the tools you’ll need to encourage math skills.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at