North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

Beyond 1, 2, 3...

Opportunities for children to explore and develop math concepts occur naturally throughout daily routines and activities. Mealtime can be a mathematical learning experience. At dinnertime you may notice your child counting the peas on her plate, not in the interest of showing off her math skills, but because she wants to know how many more she has left to eat. By simply asking, "How many peas do you have left on the spoon waiting to go in your mouth," you are encouraging the thinking skills required for achieving future math concepts. (In addition, this gentle "guiding" will encourage the dawdling child.)

Children become intrigued when we give them daily opportunities to associate numbers with concepts such as length, quantity, time, temperature, space and money. They learn math concepts by telling how old they are. Children hold up chubby fingers indicating their age. A child's age, height, weight, address and phone number are important numbers to her. When you pay attention to these personal numbers, your child's interest will be sparked.

Here are some math activities that help children learn by doing:

		                      Child's Learning
Activity   Parent Interaction	      Experience
Set the	   "How many people are       - Practice counting
table	   eating dinner tonight? So    objects
	   how many plates do we      - Follow simple
	   need? How many forks?        directions
	   Let's count them out.      - Accept
	   OK, now let's give one       responsibility
	   to each person: one for    - Match one-to-one
	   sister, one for Daddy,	when counting
	   one for you, one for me."
Wash	   "Let's measure the	      - Learn to measure
dishes	   detergent into the dish-
(unbreak-  washer to make the
able)	   dishes clean."
	   "What do you want to	      - Understand time
	   wash first: the cups or	sequences
	   the plates? Are you go-
	   ing to start with the big  - Understand sizes
	   spoons or little spoons?     and shapes
	   How will you arrange
	   them in the drying rack?   - Categorize
	   There are three steps:
	   1) we wash it with soap    - Put things in a
	   2) we rinse it with water	series
	   3) we put in on the rack 	
	      to dry."
Clean up   "Look at all the Legos     - Learn to compare
	   on the floor. I wonder 	few and many
	   how many there are?"
	   Pause and let your child   - Practice counting
	   estimate. "Let's count 	objects
	   them together as we
	   put them in the box."
Daily	   "First we'll have lunch,   - Learn one event
routine	   then we'll take a nap,	follows another
	   and then we'll go 		in predictable
	   outdoors to play." 		sequence
	   (Most children do not 
	   really understand clock 
	   time until they are about 
	   8 years old.)
In the	   "We need 6 muffin cup      - Match one-to-one
kitchen	   liners to put in the 	when counting
	   muffin pan."
	   "What size container       - Make estimates
	   should we use for these 	in relation to
	   leftovers?"			size
	   "The cookies need to       - Learn about
	   bake for 10 minutes.		measuring time
	   Let's set the timer so 
	   they don't burn."
Home	   "How thick is the board?   - Measuring
repairs	   How long should it be?"
	   "How should we stack	      - Balance
	   this wood so it doesn't 
Shopping   "We need the biggest       - Compare sizes
	   box of Cheerios. Can 
	   you help me find it?"
	   "We need five apples.      - Learn to count
	   You count while I hold 	objects
	   the sack."	
	   "Look, this toy is 79 and - Compare number
	   this one is 85. Which 	and cost
	   one costs more money?"
Driving	   "The speed limit on this   - Learn relation-
	   road is 35. Can you find	ships of signs
	   the sign for the speed	and numbers
	   "I'll count blue cars, you - Count to solve
	   count red ones. We'll	problems
	   add them together."

Every time you do something, math plays a part. Give your child a chance to see how. Watch for clues from the child. Your comments will be most helpful when a child shows an interest in numbers. In fact, a child will often take initiative in asking for help: "What does that sign say?" You need only be willing to respond to the child's interest. With appropriate learning experiences, children will develop a lifelong interest in using mathematics. It's more than learning to count 1, 2, 3...!


Children's books and music tapes offer a fun way to present math concepts. Count and See, by Tana Hoban; The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins (a book about dividing cookies among an ever-growing number of children); The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle (with days of the week and counting); Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina (showing position in space). Two songs on tape which include math concepts are Raffi's "Five Little Frogs" (counting) and "I Wonder if I'm Growing" (height).


Scoy, I., Family Day Caring, July/August, 1991, Math Curriculum? You? Yes!

Dodge, D., A Parent's Guide to Early Childhood Education, 1990. Gryphon House, Inc.

McCracken, J., More Than 1,2,3 - The Real Basics of Mathematics, NAEYC Publication.

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 13

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
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North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service