Preschool Math Learning - Part 1 - It Starts with Language

8 January 2020

Preschool Math Learning -  Part 1 - It Starts with Language - 3 Fun Ways to Grow Early Math Skills with Words

There is a distinct and special language for math. Math words describe our world in size, measurement, comparison and more. And your preschooler understands and develops their own math language the way they do all language-- as they use and practice it everyday. So today, I want to share 3 easy, everyday ways that you can support and have fun with math’s special language. Because this early, verbal skill is fundamental to all the learning your preschooler will do with math in the future.

Your preschooler learns math concepts as they do all things, through active, everyday experiences. For example, children are able to tell differences in sizes of people, animals, and toys long before they have any idea about what “measurement” actually is. They recognize, too, the difference between one and many and between few and lots before they acquire real number concepts. For example, when snacks are handed out, most preschoolers can easily tell you who got “lots” and who got only a “few.”

Now, think of how your preschooler uses number names as they talk or sing. “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” are familiar to young children long before they really comprehend the meaning that these numbers represent. Number words like one, two, and five are just some of the many things that children pick up by imitation from the adults around them. Your preschooler is repeating or mimicking the words they hear without a true understanding of numerals and counting. They need your help in putting "2 and 2 together!"

So, here are three simple ways to help little ones, ages 2 and up, practice and develop the basics of math language:

  1. Make it a habit to use number names like “one, two, three” correctly and frequently in your own day-to-day conversations. For example, instead of saying “a bunch of carrots,” you can say “these four carrots.” Then, to reinforce this number, count them out loud for your preschooler to hear. Maybe even have your little one count along with you. Also, make it a habit to count things on a regular basis. For example, as you set the table, count the plates with your preschooler. Or at bath time, count the toys in the water together. Or, make our Five-Minute No-Cook Nut Butter Balls and have your preschooler count out the ingredients as you make the recipe together.
  2. Include quantitative words like “many” or few” as part of daily life too. In addition to counting, use quantitative words and phrases, describing quantities, comparison and measurement, as part of your daily routine. Sprinkle words such as big and little, long and short, high and low, wide and narrow, late and early, first, middle and last, once and twice throughout your day. Use these words together in your daily descriptions of what happens around you: What’s light and heavy, the same length, highest, lowest, and longer than? For example, count out the plates for lunch, using number names, one, two, three. Then you can use a few quantitative words and phrases, “See how Daddy’s plate is in the middle of the table and yours is at the end?” Our Chatty-do activities, What was the biggest thing you saw today? and What was the smallest thing you saw today? are 2 super quick ways to practice quantitative words like these. 
  3. Show your preschooler what number names and quantitative words mean. For example, during cooking activities, explain and show your preschooler that you will use a dozen eggs and a quart of milk. Take out the egg carton, show, count and tell them that twelve equals a dozen. Let them hear you use these terms often because this is how they learn match concepts! For example, when your little one is drawing with markers or crayons, colors can be counted using number names. Then, you can use a quantitative word saying, “I saw how you used red first, and blue last.” When you’re playing with blocks is another perfect time to use quantitative words together, like tall and short, longer than, wide and narrow. Now make Grape and Apple Turtles together and count how many grapes and apples you used to make their shells. And which is biggest? 

As your child uses math language she will become familiar, capable and at ease with it. So keep having fun with those math words! Let us know if these ideas supported your kiddo's math learning-- feel free to tell us what you think right here.

Stay tuned! I’ll build on these three math language practices in Part 2 of this 5 part preschool math learning series, Numbers and Counting. 

Looking for more fun with math? Check out our article, Learning Anywhere, Every Day - Math Adventures. And get more active, everyday ways to support your preschooler early skills, in our article, Children Learn By Doing - 4 Ways to Boost Early Education with Active Learning.


Thanks for the inspiration / photo credit goes to Francine Girvan's photo of an egg case at Trader Joe's grocery.