Math can dog a kid all of their life. And for a math-hesitant parent with a new kindergartner, the idea of helping even with kindergarten math skills can be daunting. For some, kindergarten math activities can trigger thoughts of failure and send parents into an existential tailspin.
However, those math woes are completely unfounded: There are still a few years before the dreaded common core and calculus come into play, giving parents more than enough time to prepare to help their kids succeed. At the kindergarten level, though, parents can begin helping their kids with math games and activities by preventing the very thing that might have instilled fear of math in the first place: stress.
How to Help a Kindergartner Learn Math
- Don’t stress: A child can develop an aversion to the curriculum if they associate it with parental stress.
- Play number games like counting objects.
- Allow a child to set the table, figuring out the corresponding number of dishes for each person.
- Play grouping games.
- Download engaging math-based apps to play during screen time.
- Talk to teachers about lesson plans and figure out ways to reinforce them at home through fun activities.
“Don’t share those feelings of nervousness or dislike of math with your children. They don’t need to know you’re nervous,” says Dr. Angela Baum, president of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators and associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina. “When kids start absorbing pressure, that’s where the dislike of math comes from.”
A child isn’t predisposed to hate math, but rather learns it. A parent who is actively helping a child learn and adjust to kindergarten math curriculum through fun rather than regimented activities will find a much more receptive child and a much more positive engagement with the subject going forward.
“Show math is fun. Math is accessible. Math is something everybody can do,” Baum says. “If math is something you present to them as enjoyable, that’s how they’re going to experience that. Put those fears and nervousness aside, dive in, and make it something you and your children enjoy.”
At the kindergarten level, mathematics generally focus on five core areas: counting and cardinality (grouping); operations and algebraic thinking; numbers and operations in the base of 10; measurement and data; and simple geometry. Those are the basics, and while they’re quite simple despite their stiff scientific names, most children are already counting, grouping, organizing, and identifying shapes well before kindergarten.
Much of that pre-K learning comes from games involving everyday things, and it’s in employing those everyday activities involving practical math that parents can really help their children succeed and become interested in math. This can take a number of forms. When setting the table, a child can be tasked with figuring out how many forks are needed to correspond with the number of people. When shopping for ingredients for a meal, let a child count them out and put them in the basket.
One thing Baum doesn’t recommend, however, is making kids sit with worksheets after school, which can create animosity toward the subjects that are interrupting valuable play and family time.
“There’s no research to support that homework with young children provides any benefit at all. When kids come home and have to do an hour of math and everyone stresses out, it works against what everyone is trying to accomplish. It feels counterintuitive,” she says. “Children learn better and are more successful when they’re able to come home and enjoy time with their family, rather than come home and immediately start doing worksheets.”