Helping children age four to five with maths at home
The adage about children learning when they're having fun is especially true when it comes to maths. So the challenge is how to make playing around with numbers part of the warp and weft of everyday games and experiences.
Numbers in everyday life
Children are introduced to numbers at a very early age. They can see that numbers are used whenever a TV channel is selected, when the microwave is used and when they walk down the street and see houses, cars and buses with numbers on them. This helps children to recognise numerals 1 to 10 and you can reinforce this when you're talking to children about what's happening (eg "We must catch the number 7 bus").
You can also help your children by saying numbers in order and matching numbers to objects counted (eg laying out sweets and counting each one as you lay it down, giving it a number and saying one sweet, two sweets, three sweets etc, making sure there is a number for each one and that the very last number tells you the total number of sweets).
If the sweets are moved around (but none added or taken away), they will learn that even if they are set out differently, the number remains the same (this is important mathematically).
Games involving numbers
Games such as dominoes, and snakes and ladders help with numbers. Reading 'number' books, reciting number rhymes and playing number games will help to give your child confidence and prepare them for counting and ordering numbers at school.
Encourage them to use their fingers for counting activities. They can set the table for dinner, laying out a knife, fork and spoon for each person in the family (or their toys).
Skittles is a useful game for introducing subtraction: start with five and eventually move on to 10. The children roll the ball at the skittle and count the number they knock down and the number left standing.
You can practise mental maths with your child even at this early stage using their fingers, eg How many fingers have you got? Can you show me four? Five? Eight?
You can also use potato rings on fingers. For example, on three fingers: count the number, then add one or possibly two more. How many now? What happens if you eat one? Two?
Place buttons, dolls or other toys on a tray, count them, then take one away. How many are left? Continue and repeat in any play or domestic situation that children enjoy.
The early stages of multiplication and division can be introduced in a practical way. For example, there are three bears and I have nine biscuits. How many biscuits can each bear have? How can we make sure they each get the same (eg 'one for you' and 'one for me')? Multiplication can initially be done as repeated addition, eg two grapes for each bear. How many altogether? (2 + 2 + 2 = 6)
Whenever you play or carry out any games or activities involving numbers, try to keep it enjoyable for both you and your child. Little and often is best.
Praise and encouragement when your child finds a task difficult is very important. And little children (but plenty of older ones, too) like playing games they can win, so make it easy for them to win (and let them occasionally).
And swear to yourself that you'll never say "I was rubbish at maths" in front of your children (even if you were).