Math Activities in the Home: Preschool to Kindergarten

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Your home is full of opportunities to explore math with your grandchild and, at the same time, build his or her self-confidence and understanding of mathematical ideas. This is a chance for you and your grandchild to “talk math” that is, to communicate about math while discovering relationships between numbers. Being able to describe mathematical patterns and relationships, such as those between “addition and subtraction” or “odd and even numbers,” is important to later success in math.

The activities in this section are intended to be enjoyable and inviting and use items that can be found in your home. While doing the activities, keep in mind that an understanding of math and a sense that math is enjoyable will help children develop skills that they will need for success their entire lives.

  • Playing with your grandchildren can provide many opportunities to engage in activities such as sorting, matching, comparing and arranging them.
  • Children need to see that grandparents also make math mistakes occasionally and that they identify their mistakes and find ways to correct them.
  • Calling attention to numbers that are all around them lets children know that numbers are important and that they are used for many different purposes.
  • Throughout the day, find ways to let your grandchildren practice using arithmetic skills. Ask, for example, “How many magazines came in the mail?” “How many more letters will we need to get to have 10 letters?” “Which are there more of, magazines or letters?” 
  • Sometimes younger grandchildren don’t understand that counting means naming numbers in a specific order. This simple point should be reinforced often.
  • For titles of books that contain counting rhymes and songs, see the list of children’s books in the sidebar on the right.

Math in the Home

Your home is a great place for you to begin to explore and “talk” mathematics with your grandchild. Incorporating math activities and language into familiar daily routines will show your grandchild how math works in his everyday life and provide him with a safe environment in which to take risks by trying new things.

Rhyme and Sing


Young children love to hear, sing and say nursery rhymes and songs. Counting rhymes and songs can be both enjoyable for them and introduce them to basic mathematics concepts, such as number names and number sequence.

What You Need

  • Book of nursery rhymes or songs
  • Feather

What to Do

  • Teach your grandchild the following counting rhyme:

Four Little Ducks

Four little ducks that I once knew,
Fat ducks, skinny ducks, they were, too.
But one little duck with a feather on her back,
She ruled the others with a quack! quack! quack!
Down to the river they all would go,
1, 2, 3, 4, all in a row.
But one little duck with a feather on her back,
She ruled the others with a quack! quack! quack!

  • Say the rhyme with your grandchild several times. When she can say the rhyme all the way through, have other family members join you. Give your grandchild a feather and have her lead everyone around the room as you all sing.
  • For the following rhyme, show your grandchild how to perform the actions indicated.

Five Little Speckled Frogs

Five little speckled frogs
(hold up five fingers)
Sitting on a speckled log
(sit on your heels)
Eating some most delicious bugs
(pretend to eat)
Yum! Yum!
One jumped into the pool
Where it was nice and cool
(cross arms over chest and shiver)
Now there are four little speckled frogs.
(hold up four fingers)
(Continue until no frogs are left.)

  • After saying the rhyme, ask your grandchild to hold up the correct number of fingers to show how many frogs are in the rhyme at the beginning. Then have her hold up the correct number of fingers and count to five with you as you say each numeral.
  • Teach your grandchild any counting rhymes and songs that were your personal favorites when you were a child, or have your grandchild ask other family members what rhymes they knew when they were children.
  • Other counting rhymes, songs and games that you may want to teach your grandchild include “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” “This Old Man,” “Ten in a Bed (Roll Over)” and “One for the Money.”

Number Hunt


By counting, using number names and learning to recognize differences in number values, children build a foundation for the development of number sense and mathematical reasoning.

What You Need

  • 3 plastic eggs that come apart (or similar containers)
  • M&Ms, raisins
  • Plastic netting

What to Do 

  • In pieces of netting, loosely wrap different numbers of treats and place one bag in each egg. With your grandchild out of the room, hide the eggs.
  • Call your grandchild into the room and tell her that you’ve hidden three eggs and that you want her to find them. As she finds each egg, have her count aloud — “1,” “2,” “3.”
  • When she’s found all the eggs, have her open each one and take out the bag of M&Ms or raisins (but not open it).
  • Ask her to count how many treats are in each bag. (She can have the treats when she’s done.)

Walk and Count


Ordinary activities can be used to reinforce young children’s number sense and introduce them to arithmetic operations, such as addition and subtraction.

What to Do

Take your grandchild for a walk. You can walk around your neighborhood, through a park, or just around the rooms in your home. As you walk, say silly things for him to do, such as the following:

  • Take two big steps and three little steps.
  • Take three little steps, hop one time, take three big steps.
  • Take one little step, turn around two times.
  • Hop four times, turn around one time.
  • Take three big steps forward and two big steps backward

Count aloud each kind of action that your grandchild performs and compliment him for his efforts: “1, 2—1, 2, 3—1, 2. That’s great!” Let your grandchild turn the tables and say silly things for you to do as you walk.

For your kindergarten grandchild, expand the activity by asking him to “guess” (estimate) how many of his steps it will it take, for example, to get from the tree to the corner. After he makes his estimate, have him count steps to see how close the estimate is. Next ask him how many of your steps it will take. Will it take you more steps or fewer to go the same distance? Again, have him count to see if his answers are correct.

Find It


Young children may not recognize that numbers are all around them. Pointing out numbers on everyday items increases their number sense.

What You Need

  • Boxes, cans and bottles of food and other household supplies

What to Do

  • Place several boxes, cans and bottles on the kitchen table. You might use a cereal box, a can of soup and a bottle of dishwashing soap.
  • Sit with your grandchild and point out one or two numbers on each item. (Numbers can be found in the names of some products, as well as in the list of contents and in addresses. However, rather than pointing to a very large number, such as a ZIP code, point to one digit in that code—a 6 or 3 or 8.)
  • Point to one of the items and say a number that is easy to see. Ask your grandchild to find it. Then have him look for that number on the other items.
  • Have your grandchild choose a number for you to find on one of the containers.

Sort It Out


Sorting and matching activities introduce young children to many mathematical operations, including classification and measurement.

What You Need

  • Pairs of socks of different sizes and colors
  • Laundry

What to Do

When you’re sorting and folding clean laundry, have your grandchild join you and do such things as the following:

  • Hold up a pair of matching socks that belong to her and say, for example, “These socks go together because each sock is red and each one fits the same size foot—yours!”
  • Pick up another sock and ask your grandchild to look through the pile for the sock that matches it. When she chooses a sock, have her tell you how she knows that it’s the right one.
  • Continue holding up socks until your grandchild has paired them all. If she mispairs any socks, gently correct her by asking her to tell the color of each sock and to put the socks together to see if they are the same size.
  • After you’ve done this activity several times, let your grandchild choose the socks for you to pair. (Occasionally choose a wrong sock to give her the chance to help you correct your mistake!)

Have your grandchild help you sort the laundry to be washed.

  • Ask her, for example, to put all the blue things together, all the whites, all the towels and so forth.
  • You might also have her count as she sorts. How many towels are there? How many shirts? Try saying, “I count five shirts. Is that right?” Then have your grandchild count aloud the number of shirts.
  • From time to time, give an incorrect number so that she can count the items one by one and show you that you’ve made a mistake.

Shape Up


Using objects that are familiar to young children can be a good way to introduce them to differences in shapes and to classification.

What You Need

  • Snack crackers in the shape of circles, squares, triangles
  • Bread cut into different shapes

What to Do

Here are some simple things that you can do to focus your grandchild’s attention on different shapes:

  • Fill a bowl with snack crackers in shapes such as circles, triangles and squares.
  • Point to a cracker and say, for example, “Look, this one’s round. This one has three sides. See, 1-2-3. This one has four sides. Let’s count them—1-2-3-4.”
  • Place a circular cracker on the table and ask your grandchild to find other crackers that have the same shape. Continue with the other shapes.
  • As you make sandwiches, cut the bread into circles, squares and triangles so that you have two each of each shape. Ask your grandchild to match the pairs of shapes to make Shape Sandwiches.
  • Have your grandchild search for and point out different shapes on his on his clothes or in the room.

Source: US Dept of Education

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