University of Illinois Extension
Skipnavigation Nibbles ... Ideas for Families

Kids & Food
Help Your Child Succeed
Your Child's Health
Challenges of Parenting
Learning to Get Along
Playtime Is Fun Time
The Day Care Routine

Talking Math: Add It Up = It Equals Success

Young children can learn basic math skills just by talking with you. Math skills help in many ways--from doing well in school as a child, to doing well as an adult with other responsibilities. Math is a part of our every day life, and we need to understand it.

Comparing is an important math activity. Try using words like more/less, long/short, high/low, wide/narrow, tall/short, light/heavy. Your toddler can ask for "more," and can understand "less." Some children's books, like Dr. Seuss' Foot Book, also can help your child learn about these words.

Words that help young children understand the order of things like first/middle/last, big/bigger/biggest, low/lower/lowest, can help your child understand more about how things can be arranged. Help your child put toys on a high or low shelf, or arrange shoes by sizes, biggest to smallest.

Talking about time is another way to understand math ideas. Young children might not be able to tell time, or understand all the words about time, but their understanding begins with your words. Talk about the time of day as it goes on. Use the words "early" and "late" to describe the time of day. Put words together like morning and breakfast, lunch and afternoon to help your child understand. Say, "You woke up from your nap. Now it's afternoon."

Chores are a perfect way to use math. They can be learning experiences for young children. Some great ideas to help with math understanding are:

  • setting the table
  • sorting laundry
  • putting toys away
  • cooking and measuring
  • planning the day

Don't leave it to chance. Even though you may naturally use math words in every day talk, it is important to use these words with young children. It lets you know when they don't understand something, and you can use more words as their understanding and meaning grows. Your words and playing with your child can make math fun.

Prepared by Marsha Hawley, Extension Educator, Family Life.