Pre-K math tips: Here's how to help your student

Here's how you can help your preschooler master the basics of math outside of the classroom.
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By Aisha Labi

Hoping to help your preschooler with math skills? Here are some basic tips that experts suggest.

Practice counting

Practice counting regularly with your child. They should know how to count to 10 and beyond and understand what the numbers represent. Play games that involve counting, such as hide and seek, and incorporate counting into everyday activities, such as climbing stairs or eating.

Practice comparing items

Ask your child to compare different groups of items, such as carrot sticks and apple slices, and to tell you which group has more and which has fewer items. Incorporate these sorts of comparisons into ordinary activities around the home, including eating, organizing groceries, or sorting laundry.

Practice addition and subtraction

Practice basic addition and subtraction by having your child count how many objects are in a group, such as a plate of crackers, and then taking away some of those objects or adding more.

Practice recognizing shapes

Practice recognition of different shapes. Have your child spot things that are triangular, like pieces of pizza or the roof of a house, or rectangular, like paper money. As you talk about different shapes, have their describe why a shape your child spots is a triangle (three sides) or a square (four equal sides) or a rectangle (two opposite equal sides and two other opposite equal sides of longer length).

Practice comparing different sizes

Practice ways in which your child can compare different sizes. Have them organize a selection of toys in order from the smallest to the largest. Or have them talk about the members of your family, describing who is tallest, second tallest, and so on.

Do puzzles with your child

Doing puzzles is a great way to develop important visual discrimination skills, or the ability to recognize differences and similarities in shape, form, pattern, size, position, and color.

Play "higher" or "lower"

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 them correlate number words and counting sequence with actual amounts.

Practice sequencing

Practice sequencing with your child to develop their ability to recognize and store math procedures and number sequences. Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or build a snowman together, then ask them to describe in order the actions that took place. Your child can also describe the sequence of events that took place in the day, in a movie they saw, or in a story they read.

Use timers to develop a sense of time

Use a timer for activities like watching TV or using the computer, so that your child becomes familiar with the concept of time and how long different units of time last. If your child doesn’t want to leave the playground say they can stay for five more minutes. Your child will start to develop an understanding of time and how long different units of time last if you do this regularly.

Give your child a piggy bank

Give your child a piggy bank and help fill it with spare change. Every month or so, empty it together and have your child sort the coins by denomination. Have them match the coins to the denominations indicated on coin wrappers, which can be obtained from some banks or purchased inexpensively. This will help your pre-kindergartner with counting, value recognition, and sorting, as well as hand-eye coordination.

To find out what your pre-K student will be learning in math class, check out our pre-K math skills page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Julie Washington, Professor at Georgia State University, and align with the Common Core State Standards.