Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fun Ways to Use Toys to Teach Your Preschooler Math

Strong math skills are essential in today's world. They can be the ticket for your child to gain entry into a lucrative career field or to be a wise steward of his or her personal finances. No wonder so many parents are eager to get an early start in teaching their preschooler's math skills. The good news is that you don't have to stick with dry, boring flashcards and worksheets. Toddlers learn best through play and you probably have all the tools you need right in your toybox.

Cooking and Eating Toys

Think a toy kitchen is just good for pretend play? Think again. You can use your child's cookery toys to serve up a wide variety of math lessons, all while having fun! Here are just a few ideas:

1. Ask your child to divide up a quantity of food in equal amounts on each plate. For small children, this can simply be a lesson in counting and visualizing amounts. Older children can use it as a lesson in divisions, remainders and even fractions.

2. Look for toy foods that can be "cut" with a play knife such as the sets made by Melissa and Doug. This can help you teach halves, quarters and other fractions.

3. Your child will love opening their own restaurant and presenting you with bills! If you have a toy cash register and money, so much the better, but you can certainly use cash pulled out of an old Monopoly set. You can also play grocery store or bakery, whatever makes sense using the toys you have at hand and your child's interests.

Calendars and Charts

Charts and calendars aren't just useful for keeping track of things, they are also a great way to get your child familiar with numbers and how to compare quantities. There are many sturdy wooden versions with magnetic numbers and symbols that are easy for children aren't reading yet to use.

1. Make it a habit to use your calendar every day. This is a good way to help your child learn to recognize numbers. Counting down the days until a birthday or holiday is great practice and helps introduce the concept of subtraction.

2. Children can begin to learn how to compare quantities and the basics of percentages by using data from a chart or calendar to make a simple bar graph or pie chart. A popular way to do this is by noting the weather each day on your calendar and at the end of the week make a graph of how many days are sunny versus rainy.

3. Use your calendar or chart to introduce the concept of counting by twos, threes and so on. Think of activities you do every other day or once a week and let your child place the markers on the appropriate days.

Beads and Blocks

Wooden stringing beads and blocks have a place in every home with preschoolers! Not only are they terrific for developing fine motor skills, they can also give your child a leg up in mathematics.

1. Patterns are a very important concept in math. Use beads or blocks to make a simple pattern and have your child replicate it. Have your child make patterns for you to copy, too! You can introduce the concept of counting by various numbers by pointing out things like "every third bead is red".

2. Beads and blocks make very useful manipulatives for counting, adding and subtracting. You don't have to have a formal math lesson for this to work, instead incorporate counting into your regular play.

3. Sorting beads and blocks by shape or color helps children learn the concept of grouping. You can take it one step further by comparing quantities and even making graphs or charts from the results.

You can use almost any toy to help incorporate math into your child’s day. Counting, sorting, identifying patterns and comparing data are all easy ways to increase your child's familiarity with numbers and mathematical concepts so that they are ready and eager to tackle more advanced concepts once they being formal schooling.

As the proud parents of five pre-teen children, Carol and Jacob Maslow know quite a bit about the importance of play in a child's life. Carol is also a therapist who specializes in working with developmentally delayed preschoolers so that they can successfully integrate with their classmates. Jacob works for Today's Concept, where parents can find the highly regarded Melissa and Doug line of classic toys. Both firmly believe that the best toys don't use batteries.

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