Play: Number Fun for Preschoolers
We have a little hobby around here….playing with numbers! Jake and I are both math nerds and have high hopes of instilling a love for all things math in our kids as well. Here are a few of our basic math activities. Each of them are really simple, low on the prep work, and cheap to make.
This is a great way to do math while also being active. We created a huge number line by cutting up some cardboard boxes and taping them together with packing tape. Then, we wrote numbers spaced far enough that the kids could easily take a small step from one number to the next.
This is a great one for helping the kids learn the positional nature of numbers (i.e. a linear understanding- one comes before three, ten comes after seven). We first introduced this as a tool to help Asante learn to do simple addition in his head. He could easily do an addition problem like 2 chocolate chips plus 1 chocolate chips equals 3 chocolate chips when he had the chocolate chips in front of him. But it was harder for him to add when he didn’t have objects to look at. By playing on the number line and him doing problems on it, I think it helped him to develop the idea of a number line in his head.
So, when doing an addition problem, 7 + 3, we would have Asante start at 7, facing towards the higher numbers, and then walk forward three numbers. What he would be standing on would be the answer.
When subtracting, 7 – 3, Asante would stand on the 7, and then face towards the negative numbers because it was subtracting, then step three spaces. He’d end up being on the number 4, which was his answer.
After lots and lots of adding and subtracting, Asante became interested in the idea of negative numbers. When on the number line, if he were going to do a problem like 3 + -1, he knew he needed to stand on the three to start off with, and because it was an addition problem, he’d stand facing towards the larger numbers. BUT, since it was (-1) he would step backwards one space, getting him to his answer, 2. After a few times of doing the problems this way, he began to kinda get the difference between adding a negative number versus subtracting a number.
For Aly (3), we just practice counting by ones as she walks the line (helps to put a numeral to the word). For both Asante and Aly, we also practice “skip counting” (counting by 2s or 3s or 5s) on it.
The great thing about this kind of number line is that it folds up when not in use and we can just hide it under our couch for storage!
For this one, all you need are some pennies painted one side black and one side red, a dry erase board and a dry erase marker. When using coins (or other items), we’re helping our kids learn about the idea of object-based numbers, meaning numbers can represent a certain number of things. There are lots of simple ways to do some math fun with these items. Here are a few that we did, but I’m sure you can think of lots more!
1. Set out three coins (black side up). Ask your child to count the coins and write the number underneath. Set out five coins and have them write that number underneath.
Then, have them add them up and write the answer. So easy! But a skill that takes practice in order for them to “get it” in an intuitive way.
2. These coins offer a way to talk about negative numbers as well. The red represents a negative number and the black represents a positive one. When one red and one black come together, they explode (or erase each other or whatever metaphor you like) and they become “zero”. We use this concept when adding positive and negative numbers.
|-5 + 3|
|Asante is pairing off the red and black and pushing them to the side.|
|Two red coins are left after the pairing, so the answer is -2|
|We asked Aly if she knew how to write any numbers, and she said, “yes!” It was zero.|
|-4 + 4|
|Aly working on it|
Jake then explained to Aly which carrot was the median (middle), and then he asked Asante which one was the median in his set. Then they got to eat them- yum! Eventually, Jake wants to add more carrots and use snack time to introduce other ideas, like mode, and then maybe use carrots to practice measuring.
Especially because our kids are preschoolers, we try and find fun ways to show them how math intercepts their daily life as well as making more formal math lessons fun and interesting. If the kids start whining or getting frustrated, we normally just say, “hey, I see you’re getting frustrated. do you want to do something else?” While we won’t let them off this easily later on in elementary school, we feel like it’s so important for the kids not to dread math or develop constant feelings of frustration around math learning. They are having fun while laying a foundational understanding of numbers that will serve them well as they are introduced to more formal math concepts later in school.