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1, 2, 3, Count with me: Incorporating early math skills into everyday activities

Carolyn Rahaman is a professional SSAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Master's degree in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

Building a strong foundation in elementary math skills is vital to your child's future success in math. Here are some fun and easy ways to incorporate those lessons into your daily life with your child.

mother doing math with daughter

Photo credit: Svetlana Braun/iStock/360/Getty Images

Teaching your child early math skills may seem like an overwhelming undertaking. “I'm terrible at math,” you cry. “How can I give my child the foundation she needs?” The responsibility of introducing important foundational concepts is understandably frightening. But there is positive news: You can manage to do just that.

First, think aloud. Share your cognitive process with your child as early as when she is in kindergarten. When you explain what you are doing and why you are doing it, even if it is trivially simple, your child will learn how to critically think about concepts. The difficult part is recognizing when you use this type of early mathematical thinking in your day-to-day life. The math that your child needs at this point is so ingrained in most adults that they do not even realize they’re using it. Here are some examples to help you identify such learning opportunities.


It is not only important that children know their numbers; they must also recognize that numbers represent objects. “How many ducks are there? One, two, three.” “How many pieces of mail did we receive? Count them with me.” You can count the majority of items you are likely to encounter, but focus on the moments when you note how many there are of something.

Numerical relationships

Identify one-to-one relationships, or other situations where there are an equal number of objects. “Four people are going to eat dinner, so how many plates do we need?” Also search for chances to compare different numbers. “There are three people in this line and four people in that line. Which has fewer?” You can ask the same of non-discrete quantities. For example, you cannot count the amount of juice, but you can discuss who has more or less juice.

Addition and subtraction

Do not ask your student to memorize addition and subtraction facts. Right now, you do not even need to use the words “addition” and “subtraction.” But you can expose your child to the concepts: “How many blocks do I have? What if I add two more? One, two. How many are there? Let's count.” “There are 12 cookies, but what if you eat one and I eat one? How many cookies will there be?” Stress that if a certain number is added or taken away, there will be a different, new amount.

Spatial relations

Concepts like distance are best absorbed if students are exposed to them regularly. Explain how large an inch, a foot, and a mile are, and then reference the units to describe various lengths. For example, if you measure a table, you do so in feet, but if you measure the distance to the store, you do so in miles. Regularly state lengths and distances in units. “We walked a half-mile to the park.” “He's almost six feet tall.”

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit

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