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1st grade math tips: Here's how to help your student

Here's how you can help your first-grader master the basics of math outside of the classroom.
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Hoping to help your first-grader with math skills? Here are some basic tips that experts suggest.

Learn math from everyday objects

Your child can build an understanding of addition, subtraction, and the other math concepts they are learning in first grade by playing with everyday objects. Use items that your child enjoys playing with, such as Legos, and place them into two groups of unequal number. Place the larger grouping on the left to develop the habit your child will need later for subtracting from left to right. Next, ask your child to add objects to the smaller group from the larger group until your child counts the same number in both groups. As with all math activities, don't push it if your child resists, since math development varies greatly from child to child and your child may just not be ready for certain concepts.

Count with items

Count using items like blocks, pennies, and candy. Have some items handy for counting by ones and by tens. You can use interlocking blocks that allow students to connect two blocks to three blocks to represent 2 + 3. Use regular household items like pennies for counting by ones, and dimes for counting by tens.

Develop estimation skills

When things are stored or poured into varying size containers you have an opportunity to build your child's concept of estimation and quantity. At breakfast, ask their which bowl has more and which has less cereal. Ask them to compare the different amounts of the same liquid in three clear glasses by lining them up from least to most full. To build your child's vocabulary of comparisons, after successful practice use measuring cups with numbers. Ask their what your child notices about the number each liquid reaches in the measuring cup when they are lined up in sequence from least to most and then from most to least full.

Read math problems aloud

Help your child by reading math problems aloud slowly and carefully, so your child can hear the problem and think about what is being asked. If your child can read, have them read them.

Use real money

Children become so accustomed to seeing their parents pay with credit and debit cards that counting actual money can be an unfamiliar practice. Engage your child in the transaction of buying things at the store, allowing them to pay with cash and to count the change. This will help not only with their math skills but will foster an understanding of the concepts of saving and spending.

Reward effort for math

Speak positively about math and reward effort, rather than grades or ability. Think about how important reading is and how we are told to model this behavior for our children. We need to place math in the same category. Don't discount the importance of math by saying, "I'm not a math person, I was never good at math." Help your child read books that incorporate math, such as "Millions of Cats" by Wanda Gag or "On Beyond a Million'" by David Schwartz.

Use analog clocks

Go pre-digital with time. Reading time on a digital clock is vastly different than on a clock with a face. First grade standards focus on telling time to the hour and half hour, so have some old-fashioned analog clocks around your house as your child is learning to tell time. Consider giving their a wristwatch with a face, rather than a digital display.

Keep a calendar at home

Keep a calendar displayed in your home. Review the days of the week with your child and encourage their to count down the number of days until an event they are anticipating.

Play games with simple math

Play a game in the car using simple addition or subtraction. For example: I'm thinking of a number that equals seven when it is added to three. What number is that? Look for opportunities to play simple addition and subtraction games, for example, while they are eating, with the number of items on their plate.

Play games with math vocabulary

Play a mind-reader game. Think of a number for your child to guess. After each guess respond with the words "higher" or "lower." At different times use the words "more" or "less" so your child learns different arithmetic vocabulary. This game helps their correlate the number words and counting sequence with actual amounts or sizes.

Play family math games

Plenty of family games incorporate math. Tic-tac-toe, Connect Four, and dominoes are just some of the many games that help build math skills.

To find out what your first-grader will be learning in math class, check out our first grade math skills page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Joyce Epstein, Director, Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University; Pamela Mason, Program Director/Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Denise Walston, Director of Mathematics, Council of the Great City Schools; Nell Duke, Professor, University of Michigan; Leanna Baker, Retired Math Teacher; Bon Crowder, Math Teacher and Blogger,; and Robin Schwartz, VP, Association of Teachers of Math of NYC, and align with the Common Core State Standards.