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Use Listening to Practice Math

Many skills in early education rely on the sense of sight, hearing, and touch. Incorporating another approach to these senses, while teaching a certain skill, can provide a young child with an alternate way to learn and remember.

Here is a terrific game that uses the sense of hearing as a learning tool involving counting and simple addition.

You’ll need an empty, clean metal can (soup, coffee, etc.) and 10 pennies.

If your 3- to 5-year-old is just learning how to count and understand what the numeral means (known as one-to-one correspondence), try this.

  • Have him sit with his back to you.
  • Ask him to listen carefully as you drop pennies one by one into the can so they make a distinctive sound as they hit the bottom. For example, drop one penny, wait a second, drop the next penny, wait, then drop a third. Then ask, “How many pennies are in the can?” He should be able to say “three.” Help him count out the pennies, if needed. On one try don’t drop any, so he can begin to understand the concept of zero. Play often, until he can easily identify 0 through 10.
  • Once he is very fluent in identifying numbers up to 10 by the sounds of the penny drops, introduce simple addition. Make sure he cannot see what you are dropping—he should be relying on what he hears. Drop two pennies then ask, “How many are in the can?” When he says “two,” say, “OK, now I’m going to add some more. Listen carefully.” Then drop three more and ask, “We had two, I dropped three more, how many are in the can now?” He should be able to answer five. If he has trouble, let him take out the pennies and count them—first two, then three, and say 2 + 3 = 5. Practice often, with all the different multiples between 0 and 10. For example, drop 5, then 2 for 7. Drop 1, then 6 for a different way to get 7. Drop 1 than 1 more to equal 2. Drop 2 then zero for a different way to reach 2. Drop 5 than 5 more to equal 10 or drop 1 and 9 more for another way to total 10, etc.

In the next few weeks I’ll share how to increase the difficulty of this game by adding dimes, to practice counting by tens and to understand the place value of tens and ones.

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