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Math Play for Preschoolers

My five-year-old grandniece is making great progress in math. How can I tell? As we played with our little toy town, I asked, “You said we have five cars waiting for gas? If these two others drive over, how many will there be?” “Six…seven…seven!” she replied. She has the major math concept of counting on! She didn’t go back to the start, touching each of them from one to seven. She knew that she could start at five and keep going.

If this sounds simple to you, you haven’t worked in classes were students are struggling in math! Being able to count on (and understand how it applies to subtraction) is as major for 7-year-olds as factoring polynomials is for high school (well even more important, since few of us make a living factoring polynomials!).

Check last week’s post at  for other big concepts that will jump-start your child’s math success. These big ideas are far more important than being able to count to 100 (children often rattle off numbers without understanding what they mean) or being able to say that 2 + 3 = 5 (which can also be memorized without meaning).

For counting on, the same two big “nonsecrets” apply: Play and Model to help your child learn.

  • “How many more will we have?” is a key way to think about this. Model with simple phrases such as, “We’ve got three bowls for popcorn, so if I grab two more that’ll be four…five.” You’re demonstrating that you don’t need to start over from one.
  • Play “Captain, May I?” with this idea. “Take two steps. Now take two more, that’s three…four steps in all.”

Don’t drill. Or worry. Just model as you play. It’s okay for younger children to recount the first objects if you add more to a group. Eventually, your preschooler will catch on if you keep it fun. No flashcards or videos necessary!

By Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is