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The “Sorry” Edge

Parents often wonder, “What can I do to help my child do well in mathematics?” Skip the workbooks. Set the flashcards aside (although they have a place). Play games.

The trick to finding games your children will love to play even as they teach some key concepts is in understanding those concepts yourself. Here are a few examples.

  • One-to-One Correspondence. Does your child understand what counting really means, that one number corresponds to one object as they count? Often preschoolers can rattle off numbers, but think they’re just like letters rather than symbols that represent sound. Sorry! is one of the few games where players look at cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3…) rather than dice and have to count spaces one by one. It’s a fantastic way for children to learn what numbers mean.
  • Cardinality. Understanding that the name of a number relates to a specific quantity. If you ask your child, “How old are you?” and they hold up four fingers, next ask, “Where is the four in your fingers?” If they point to the last finger, they don’t understand cardinality. No surprise—this is a big math idea! Show them that “four” is all four fingers. We count 1, 2, 3, 4, but the four is all four fingers. Yes, it’s a bit confusing, especially if you aren’t even in school yet!

Find counting stories like Five Little Monkeys. Have your child place a finger on each monkey to show how many are left, or hold up fingers and place their hand around all of them to show the number. Look for matching game versions of Concentration (or make your own) where you can match numerals or cards where the number of objects matches the numerals.

  • Conservation. This is the idea that a given number of objects stays the same no matter how they are arranged. Six blocks are six blocks whether they are stacked, laid out in a row, or arranged in two rows of three. Even we adults sometimes struggle here—think about trying to decide whether taller or wider drink glasses hold more soda!

Again, keep it fun, but you might line up a row of Lego blocks, toy cars, or Cheerios. Ask your child to count them. Then, rearrange them in different rows and ask again. Chances are, younger children will count again. Rearrange again. Do they still count? If so, rearrange again. Then ask, “Do you notice anything? You keep getting the same answer? Do you think it would work with a row of [oranges, pillows, books]? My niece and I had a great time the other night lining up toy cars while seeing what happened.

Know that for all of these, you can Google the concept and find many hands-on ideas. Remember, though—keep it fun. Mathematicians truly think math is a blast; make sure that your children, too, associate numbers and counting with good times, not dull drills.

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