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5 Simple Preschool Math Activities

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Before young children are able to perform simple mathematical operations, like addition and subtraction, they must first understand that the visual representation of a number, the way it is written, represents a set or quantity. For example, if I see the number 5 written on a piece of paper, I can envision 5 cookies, 5 apples, or 5 cars. If someone asks me for 5 cents, I know that I can count out 5 pennies to meet their request. While the idea of counting a group of objects seems concrete, for a preschool-age child, understanding that the words we use correlate with a written number which then correlates with a specific quantity of something…requires a lot of skills! The primary skill taught to children to understand these concepts is one-to-one correspondence.

5 Simple Preschool Math Activities

Teaching Math to Preschoolers With Simple Learning Activities

We are constantly talking to young children about numbers. We ask children questions like “How old are you?” “How many butterflies do you see?” “Can you wait 5 minutes, please?” “What page are we on in the book?” Most children will naturally acquire some level of number sense when placed in a number-rich environment, where these types of questions are being asked and children are taught to provide the correct or desired responses. As parents, we can reinforce an understanding of numbers as a concrete quantity, a word provided verbally, and a character expressed visually, and that is by teaching one-to-one correspondence. The following five preschool math activities target a variety of ways to teach young children a basic understanding of how written numbers relate to a specific quantity.

1. Math Sorting and Counting Chart

In this example, I created a simple chart in Microsoft Word. I placed the numbers 1 – 5 along the bottom, with sections above each. The child is guided to place the corresponding number of objects (e.g. pompoms, flat marbles, magnets, etc.) in each section. Sorting by color creates a more visually clear illustration of the given number.

Math Sorting and Counting Chart

2. Ice Cream Cone Counter

I enjoy integrating academic concepts within seasonal themes and fun preschool crafts. This ice cream cone activity would be perfect as part of a summer thematic unit. Simply cut out the cones and number each one. Cut out the correct number of ice cream scoops out of different-colored paper. Have the child glue the corresponding number of scoops to the ice cream cones.

Ice Cream Cone Counters - Preschool Math Activity

3. Fishy Figures Counting Activity

Here’s another fun themed way to introduce one-to-one-correspondence. Cut out fish and write a number on each. Have the child draw the corresponding number of spots on each fish. You can do this with any cut-out depending upon that month’s theme. Some examples would be seeds on an apple, ornaments on a holiday tree, or buttons on a shirt. See some of our free seasonal printables for ideas.

Fishy Figures - Practicing Numbers With Animals

4. Pipe Cleaner Math Manipulatives

This is a great fine motor activity as well as a one-to-one correspondence activity. Have students thread the correct number of beads on a pipe cleaner. The numbers can appear on flash cards or can be provided verbally for a more challenging activity. Remember to create a twist at the beginning of the pipe cleaner so the beads stay in place.

Pipe Cleaner Math Manipulatives for Preschoolers

5. Counting Cups - Visual Math Aids

This is fun for back-to-school. Place numbers on the front of cups and have children place the corresponding number of a particular school supply (e.g. pencils, crayons, glue sticks) into the cups. To add an additional skill, use different colored cups and objects, and the children will have to sort by color and place the corresponding number of objects into the cups.

Sorting and Counting Cups - Preschool Math

These are just five simple ideas to teach preschool-age children one-to-one correspondence. They can be modified to address any monthly topics, themes, or holidays. What ideas do you have for teaching math in preschool?

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Dr. Carrie Wells is a college instructor, blogger, and work-at-home mother to two young children, Lydia (age 5) and Bryce (age 3). Carrie graduated from the University of Florida in 2001 with a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and in 2002 with a Master’s degree in special education. After teaching children ages 3 – 21 with varying abilities for several years, she completed her Doctorate in special education in 2008 from Nova Southeastern University. In March 2010, Carrie began writing Huppie Mama, a lifestyle blog focusing on family, food, fun, fashion, and fitness.

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