Saturday, December 17, 2011

Living (Hands-On) Math for Preschoolers

{The photo above is our New Year's Numbers Sensory Tub}

Most young children like to be moving and doing, not sitting and writing.  Workbooks are a no-go in our house.  I want our math lessons to be meaningful and show how math is applicable to everyday experiences.  I also want it to be fun.  So our Pre-K math curriculum is not a standard curriculum at all.  It's more like this--when my preschooler wants to play school, I find a math manipulative and we have a go at it!

Here's a peek at some of the materials we use!

The Math Box
I keep shoebox totes for everything.  The math box has different types of dice, play money, a measuring tape, calculators, counting blocks, magnetic numbers, math magnets, craft sticks, and different types of flash cards.  Free exploration with the math box allows them to make up their own math games and discover concepts on their own.

Occasionally I can tell when my kiddo needs some inspiration, so I will offer a little guidance.  One time, we used a set of number flashcards and bingo chips in an adding activity called Count on Two More.

Another time Elliott was stacking these blocks by color, so I introduced the concept of Bar Graphs.

I discuss patterns whenever we see them naturally around us, but this little math kit is inside our Math Box.  The books have pattern starters to complete, and empty places to make new patterns, using the shapes, frog counters or links.  Elliott prefers to just make his own patterns, as they are typically a little more complex than what the book offers.  You can see how we've used the links in our First Day of Pre-K!

We use measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen, but you can read about how we used our balance scale to measure these dinosaurs!

Shapes and Geometry
We have several sets of shapes and pattern blocks, and activities to go with them.  They are great for teaching shapes, patterns, spatial reasoning, fractions and more.

Playful Patterns was how Elliott began to understand the concept of fractions, although this is a picture of my 2 year old working the beginner shape card.

Free play with Pattern Blocks, as well as guided play, such as in Christmas Pattern Blocks are a great way to explore spatial relationships too.

Rubber bands are always fun, and this is another great free-play exploration activity.

Games and Puzzles
I believe you can teach preschool and kindergarten with games, and there are many early education board games, card games and dice games that help reinforce early math skills.  You can even add your own twist to traditional games or make homemade games to cover different skills!

$1 games!

Other Manipulatives
Teddy Bear counters were part of a Kindergarten math manipulative kit I purchased, but the Lego blocks and cups were part of a little kit I got years ago on clearance.  They don't go together, but use what you've got, right?  If I take out the white, the colors match, which make them very suitable for even my two year old to use for sorting, and the learning can be continued on with activities like patterning and counting.  (Legos, used as intended, are also a great hands-on math activity!)

Linking cubes are good for activities such as counting and adding, patterning, non-standard measurements and comparisons.  We also used these when we experimented with our balance scale.

These two-sided counters can be used for a multitude of activities and games!
 Game sheet from K-5 Math Teaching Resources

Judy clock for telling time!  I even have a teacher-sized version so we can practice together.

Living Math Books
The living math website has a very detailed list of living math readers that I am using to bulk up my library list for the winter when we can't spend as much time outside.  I have started looking for these titles and other math books to start our own math library as well.  I have also been collecting books of "math puzzles" for fun mental math and logic practice!

recommended on living math

Math Vocabulary
Whenever possible, we use math terminology like Big, Bigger, Biggest; Greater Than/Less Than; empty/full; we talk about fractions when we're cutting apples or pizza and measurements when we're cooking; we don't just "split up" snacks, we divide it evenly between the also helps him to understand concepts like similar, identical, different, etc.  Elliott is really getting a grip on math terminology and applying it frequently in conversations!

Although my goal is to keep it informal, I do have a few resources on hand for when he is asking to do school and I need to come up with a "lesson" to satisfy him.  

Family Math for Young Children

These books give ideas for activities and games to do in the home with regular household materials to help children explore mathematical concepts.

Online Math Resources
Living Math - Ideas for math readers, games and other ways to make math meaningful and fun
K-5 Math Teaching Resources - Many of the K level games are appropriate
PreKinders Math Page - Prekinders has great hands-on and play-based activities

I really believe this is the best approach to math for preschool/Pre-K and even Kindergarten.  It has been amazing to see how much my kiddos learn just by "playing" math!

What are your favorite hands-on math activities for preschoolers?  Do you have a blog post with ideas?  Please feel free to share!


  1. I feel like I could have wrote that post (almost)! Throw in some Miquon and then I could have wrote it. :) I must say I love your ideas.

  2. Where did you get those little links?

  3. Mine were actually part of a math/patterning kit that I got at Borders several years ago, but I've seen large buckets of them on Amazon, they are called Link 'n' Learn Links.