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The various shapes, colors, and sizes of falling autumn leaves and acorns offer hands-on opportunities for science and math fun.

Here are four ways to use the season’s bounty to practice important skills:

  • Estimation: Have your child help you rake some leaves into a small pile. Ask her to guess how many leaves are in the pile. Once she gives you her estimation, help her sort the leaves into piles of 10. Count by tens, and any leftover ones, to see how many were in the pile. Talk about how close her estimation was. Try this activity four or five different times, over the course of a few weeks. See how her estimation skills improve with practice.
  • Sorting and classifying: These are important skills for both math and science. Use leaves to practice. Ask your child to sort a small bunch of leaves by color, size, or shape.  Or give him ten leaves of varying sizes. Ask him to sort them left to right, by smallest to largest, or by largest to smallest.
  • Practice simple addition and subtraction: Have your child collect 10 leaves or acorns. Use them to show various ways to make 10—for example, three on the left, seven on the right. Then on a piece of paper or small notebook, help her write the number sentence to match what the leaves show (3 + 7 = 10). Do this for different ways to make 10. For subtraction, help her collect 10 leaves or acorns from the ground. Put them in a row. Have her take some away. Let her count the acorns that are left. Take away different numbers of acorns each time. Help her write the number sentence to match; for example, 10 - 4 = 6.
  • For closer scientific study: Let him pick one favorite leaf. Bring it inside and help him place it between two pieces of 8 ½” x 11” white paper. Take the wrapper off a darker color crayon. Have him rub the top paper, using the whole side of the crayon. As he rubs the crayon, he’ll feel the bumps, lines, and edges of the leaf. An image of the leaf will appear on the paper! This image will help him clearly see the stem, veins, and shape of the leaf. Use this to start a discussion of how water and minerals come through the stem and veins to help the tree stay nourished and grow. Write the name of the type of leaf on top of the paper. Hang up his beautiful art rubbing. On another day, try it again with a different type of leaf. Use the rubbings to compare and contrast.

These hands-on ideas for using familiar objects will bring math and science to life and help your child visualize these skills in a new way!


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I often rely on two of my old favorite teaching aids in helping young students with basic math.  A common deck of playing cards and a child’s hand full of U.S. coins can work wonders in helping students understand the value of numbers.

Children must first be able to recognize the four main U.S. coins (penny, nickel, dime, and quarter). First, download my "Coin Match Value Game"— it's a perfect way for young students to learn coin recognition, while subtly learning coin value.

Or you can use a deck of regular playing cards:

  • Take a king, a ten card, a five card, and an ace, of the same suit, from the deck.
  • Put the card face up on a table.
  • Have your child sit facing the cards.
  • Have him place a quarter on the king, a dime on the 10 card, a nickel on the five card, and a penny on the ace.
  • Let him go through the rest of the coins and place them below the appropriate cards.

As your child gets older, a further expansion of this game is to play “substitute the coins.” Once all the coins are placed on their proper cards, use the coin match value game to help your child “substitute” coins for equal numeric value. Here’s how:

  • Start by introducing a new card, a queen from a deck of cards, to act as a “bank.” Put the queen off to the side.
  • Have him take a dime from the “ten card pile” and place it on the bank.
  • He must then replace the dime with coins from the other card piles to equal 10 (for example, a nickel and five pennies, two nickels or 10 pennies).
  • He can invest a quarter into the bank by replacing it with a variety of coins. The coins get moved around, but the total value of the coins, including the coins in the bank, stays the same.
  • Play often, until your child can easily make coin substitutions without adult help.

These games are wonderful learning tools. In addition, they can be great fun. This is especially true if, at the end of the games, the young student gets to keep all the coins!

Although much of my professional focus is now on enhancing literacy skills, my blog posts will never neglect the importance of starting young students with solid math skills, as well. Last week I wrote about the importance of “one-to-one correspondence” in reading. One-to-one correspondence is very important to early math also. Basically, this concept means correctly matching numbers to objects.

Rote number counting, and knowing what that number represents, are two very different and distinct mathematical skills. A student can be an excellent counter, yet not be able to identify a random number out of numerical sequence. Or your child may be able to say the numeral 9, yet be unable to count-out nine objects.

Here are three easy and fun activities to help your child practice one-to-one correspondence in math:

  • In a dish, place a small amount of a favorite snack like Cheerios, raisins, Goldfish crackers, etc. Start a “roll for snacks” game by rolling a single die, and have your child counts the dots. He can then count out and save an equal number of pieces from the snack dish. (Who knew that counting could be so yummy?) To increase the difficulty, use a pair of dice, and add the dots before counting the total. If the snacks build up, they can be saved and enjoyed later on.
  • From a deck of playing cards, remove 10 “number cards” (2-10) from the same suit. Let the “Ace” from that suit represent the number 1. Line up the cards from left-to-right, the Ace to ten. Below the cards, have her place the correct number of pennies shown on the card.  Once she can easily do this from one to 10, mix up the cards and place them out of sequence. Practice this until she can match the pennies to the individual numbers shown on the cards, no matter what the sequence.
  • Put a pile of 20 pennies on a table. Say a number out loud between 1 and 20. See if your child can count out the number of pennies that you said. If he can’t do it by himself, help him count out the correct amount. Have him put the pennies in a straight line, pointing to each penny, as he counts in sequence.

Practicing math one-to-one correspondence, while having a little fun, will help your child make the connection between seeing, saying, and knowing.

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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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Bring math into your child’s daily life this summer to keep skills current. Here are three simple and fun activities to practice math that your child learned this past school year.

Here is a geometry activity that I’ve done many times with my 1st grade students. They love the hands-on practice of making real shapes.

  • You’ll need a container of plastic drinking straws and some bendable twist-ties from plastic storage or trash bags.

  • Use the straws and ties to construct two-dimensional shapes (polygons). For a triangle, use three straws and three ties.

  • Connect the ends of each straw by inserting a tie about halfway into one straw, and then the other half of the tie into the next straw. They will bend at the corners to form and hold the shape of a perfect triangle.

  • To construct a square and a rhombus (diamond), your child will need four straws and four ties.

  • For a rectangle, six straws and six ties are needed.

For addition practice try a game called “add ’em up”:

  • You’ll need a deck of playing cards with all face cards removed. Use the aces to represent numeral one. This can be for two or more players.

  • Shuffle the deck and put it in a pile, numbers down.

  • Players take turns, picking two cards each. They add the number value of the cards to get a total. The player with the highest sum wins all the cards. To break a tie, each player takes one more card and adds that to the total.

  • When the pile is gone each player counts their cards. The player with the highest number of cards wins.

For telling time:

  • Call attention to clocks you may see around your neighborhood. For example, look for analog or digital clocks on banks, stores, billboards, and other community places. Ask him to tell you the time he sees displayed. Help him, if needed.

  • At baseball, soccer ,or other timed games that you watch, help her read and understand how much time is left in the half, or until the end of the game. Usually, these clocks count “down” so this can be a good time to help her practice counting backwards.

Try to find other opportunities involving simple math skills to challenge your young student as often as possible.


Every subject students take in school has specific facts and vocabulary associated with it. In history, students must learn people’s names, events that happened, and important dates. In literature, there are character names to learn, symbols, and literary terms. We tend to think that math is different, but it is not. If the math terminology is automatic, then understanding the problems will be easier. This is especially true if doing word problems. Summertime is a great time to review. Coming back to school in the fall with last year’s math vocabulary secure in memory and a beginning level of next year’s vocabulary already learned will likely make math much easier. Quizlet is great tool for reviewing math vocabulary. Quizlet offers review in the form of flash cards, games, or tests.

There are two approaches that will help next year in math—reviewing last year’s math vocabulary and previewing next year’s. If your child just finished taking Algebra I and will be taking geometry next year, he should spend time reviewing Algebra I vocabulary. He can go to Quizlet and search for it. Many teachers and students have posted their sets of study cards, and almost any subject is already available. He should start by using the flash cards to make sure he still knows the vocabulary. After he feels comfortable, he can play Scatter and Race which make the learning more fun.

After spending time reviewing last year’s math course, your child can begin working on next year’s vocabulary. She can search for “geometry vocabulary” to find a set of terms to begin learning. It might be beneficial to search for terms from previous years. If she is in 7th grade, she could look for 5th grade geometry vocabulary. It is important that this review is not frustrating, and that she has enough success to enjoy playing the games. Any review of geometry terms will make math easier next year.

Quizlet is useful for reviewing almost any subject. The frequently used element names and symbols will be useful in almost every science course. Reviewing literary terms, states and capitals, and historical events can help. It is, however, most helpful in math. Many students struggle because they do not remember all the mathematics terms. It is hard to find the additive inverse of a negative number if you don’t remember what an additive inverse is! It is important to have some recreation and relaxation time in the summer, but just a few minutes a day reviewing math vocabulary can set your child up for greater success next year in math.

If your child needs to drill her math facts as well as vocabulary, you should read about some math games that help drill facts while having fun.

Subtraction is often a difficult concept for young children to grasp. Yet it is very important for math comprehension and problem-solving.

Here are three easy and fun ways to reinforce this all-important math skill:

  • Start by practicing counting backward. For a younger child start at the number 10. For a kindergarten or 1st grade student, start at the number 20. The ability to confidently and fluently count backward from these numbers allows a child to know that the number “right before” is an automatic minus one. For example, if you say 12 he should know that the number right before is 11. So, he instinctively knows that 12-1=11.
  • Use a 12-inch ruler as a number line. Have her use her finger to actually “hop” backward on the number line as you give her subtraction to practice. You say, “What is 9-4?” She puts her finger on the number 9 then makes four hops backwards, landing on number 5. Help her remember that she doesn’t start to count until her finger moves and lands on the first hop. Have her say the complete equation, 9-4=5. Then, have her write it in a small notebook. That way you are incorporating visual, auditory, and tactile senses, which reinforce the concept for all types of learners. As she gets confident with numbers 12 and below, increase the difficulty to 15, then 20 using a tape measure.
  • Play a “What Is Missing?” game. Put out 10 fish crackers, raisins, Cheerios, or any other favorite small snack. Together count out so that your child knows there are 10 objects. Have him turn around and not look while you hide some, out of sight, under a plate or bowl. Then, ask him to look again to see and count how many are left. For example, if he still sees 7, help him figure out that there must be 3 under the plate. Have him check under the plate to see if he’s correct. Then have him, or help him write out the subtraction sentence 10-7=3. Added bonus: After each successful guess he can eat the snack! (Variation: This game can be played with pennies—no food or eating involved.)

Incorporating simple math skills, like subtraction, into daily life using fun activities like these takes the mystery out of math!

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Using an abacus for calculating numbers predates our modern system of writing numbers on paper or other materials. Its origin can be traced back to the very early civilizations of Persia, China, and Egypt. This simple device can be used to help everyone, especially children, understand our “base 10” method of processing numbers.

An abacus helps young children understand “10” by using rows of 10 beads that children can move to count, add, and subtract. By understanding multiples of 10, a child can better mentally organize addition and subtraction.

Here’s a simple and fun way to put a modern twist on an ancient counting tool. Young children today love to make and wear bracelets. You can help your child combine this popular craft with a simple math tool. This is something I have done with students in my 1st grade classroom as part of our math program.

Here’s what you and your child will need:

  • A pipe cleaner
  • 10 small, uniform-sized beads, 5 each of two different colors


  • Cut the pipe cleaner to a 5- to 7-inch size, depending on the size of your child’s wrist
  • Twist a knot on one end of the pipe cleaner
  • Add the beads by grouping five of one color together, then five of a different color to make 10. We made ours with five red and five white beads. Twist the ends together to make a bracelet. Now he knows that 5 + 5 = 10.
  • Practice the different ways to get “10” using the beads. Slide to show 10 + 0 = 10,  9 + 1 =10, 8  + 2 =10, etc.
  • Now he’s ready to practice addition and subtraction from 0 to 10. For example, ask him “What is five plus three?” He can then slide three of the white beads next to the five red beads and count out eight. Practice with other combinations from 2 to 10.
  • For subtraction practice, he can slide six beads to one side, slide back four, and see that 6 - 4 = 2. Again practice with different subtraction facts from 10 and below.

This bracelet abacus is a simple hands-on tool in helping young students understand addition and subtraction combinations from 0 to 10.

Sorting and classifying are early elements of math.  Understanding patterns in general is the beginning of algebra. Young children can be taught to sort by color, shape, size, etc. They can learn to manipulate and create patterns. Practicing these skills can give your child a solid base for more challenging math.

Here are five simple ways to help your preschool or kindergarten child practice and become fluent in these basic mathematical skills.

  • Make it part of everyday life. Let your child help you unload and sort groceries from the bags. For example, put all soup cans together in one pile. Put pasta or fruit in another.
  • Incorporate sorting with cleanup time. All the blocks go into the yellow basket, all the puzzles on the shelf, etc. 
  • Play a matching game. Take a penny, a nickel, dime, and a quarter. Tape one of each at the top of separate pieces of construction or plain computer paper. Give your child a pile of mixed coins and let her specifically match each to the coins taped on the paper.
  • Play a sorting game. Separate Legos, for example, by color, size, or shape. Use colored blocks to make different patterns (yellow, blue, red, green, yellow, blue, etc.).
  • Have them sort their own laundry. When my children were in kindergarten, I put a small tan and a small brown laundry basket in the bottom of their closet. All the light-colored clothes went into the tan basket. All the dark-colored ones went into the brown basket. It was a great way to keep discarded clothes off the floor—and a big help when it was time to do laundry!

When doing these activities, be sure to talk together about why things belong in a certain group. By incorporating language while handling objects, children are able to describe the rationale of why the objects belong together for multisensory learning.

"Instant math recall" is the ability to do basic math functions quickly, without resorting to finger counting or paper and pencil. This is an acquired skill that leads young students to correctly solve simple math problems in their head. Here are some simple activities to boost instant math recall training at home.

Use a pair of dice:

Simply roll one die and have your child tell you the correct number of dots on the top surface. Turn it into a game! Congratulate her when she identifies the numbers correctly. Gradually add a time limit of about three seconds. This will encourage her to determine quickly the correct number value, and not count the dots one-by-one. When she is very familiar with the numbers on one die, introduce the second die.

Have her add the numbers on the pair of dice for a total. Start off by rolling the dice several times until only lower numbers appear. Disregard rolls that result in larger numbers. Have her give you the total (sum) for these low number rolls. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

Use a similar process to practice instant math recall subtraction. Have him subtract the lower value die from the higher value die, and tell you the difference (remainder).  Once again, start off by rolling the dice several time until only low combinations appear. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

As your child gets older, introduce a third die, and add all three together. Subtraction can be simplified by just subtracting the value of the lowest die from the higher of the two remaining dies.

Use a deck of playing cards:

Remove cards until you have only lower “number cards” (two-six). Let ace cards represent the number one. Deal your child two random card and ask him for the total. Set a reasonable time. Gradually move up to higher numbered cards. Eventually, deal three cards to add together.

To practice subtraction, deal him two random cards and ask him to subtract the lower number from the higher number. Eventually, deal three cards and have him subtract the lowest number from the higher of the two remaining cards.

Training with playing cards also reinforce the recognition of the number symbol (9) with the number value (nine diamonds).

Children love to play games! If you play these instant math recall games often, your child should have no difficulty solving basic addition and subtraction problems in his head.


> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Math Skills

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Teachers know that much time and energy is focused on making sure a student reaches and stays at grade level for his academic benchmarks. Yet all good teachers know that supporting and challenging an above-level child is equally as important!

Here are ways that parents can help support a child who has already achieved or surpassed grade level requirements:

If your child is a gifted reader:

  • Enhance this skill by helping him identify areas of interest. Then collect books, children’s magazines, etc., that are at his appropriate reading level. You can borrow these from your public library, school library, or from friends with older children.
  • Encourage him to read both fiction and nonfiction stories about the same subject. For example, borrow books regarding the actual discovery of dinosaurs, then mix with some fictional dinosaur stories. With your help, encourage him to compare and contrast the similarities and differences.
  • Combine reading with science, cooking, art, or other “hands-on” experiences. For example, if he loves snakes, let him read both fiction and nonfiction stories about them. Then, roll colored balls of clay into different types of snakes to make his own collection. Let him write simple labels, using index cards, to identify the types of snakes and two or three of their characteristics. Help him set up a place in his room to display his labeled collection.

If your child has advanced math skills:

  • Help her expand her homework. For example, challenge her to write a word problem to explain how she arrived at the correct math answer.
  • Help her practice estimation. Fill a clean, small jar with marbles, or any other small objects. Ask her to guess how many marbles are in the jar. Have her write down her guess. Then open the jar and count the marbles together. See how close her estimation came to the actual count. Do this often with different items,of different sizes, such as pennies, Lego pieces, Goldfish crackers, etc. This will also help her understand how different-sized objects can take up more or less space in the same size jar. 
  • Bring math into everyday life. If she would like to get a certain small toy, have her do two or three simple jobs around the house to earn some money. Count the coins together until she has enough to purchase the toy.

Simple creative strategies like these can keep an above-level student excited about learning!


> Help Your Gifted Child Succeed in School

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Are old magazines, newspapers, flyers, and brochures causing clutter in your home? Turn them into new learning tools that develop academic and important motor skills for your young student!

For phonics practice:

  • Use pictures to reinforce beginning sounds. Help your child print a capital and lowercase Bb, for example, on the bottom of a plain piece of paper. Then have her become a “Bb” detective. Leafing through the magazine, page by page, she can cut out as many pictures of things she can find that start with the letter B or b, then paste them on the paper. The cuts can be simple circles or squares around the picture, not precise cuts. Hang up her letter/picture creations. Once she’s mastered all her beginning consonant sounds, you can do a similar activity for ending sounds.
  • Use the materials to help your child categorize. For example, have him cut out and paste things that move on wheels. Or, have him find and paste as many different animals as he can discover.

For math practice:

  • Have your child use small pictures to make addition sentences. For example, she can paste pictures of three dogs in a row. Leave a small space, and then paste pictures of four cats in the same row. Underneath the pictures she can write, or you can help her write 3 + 4 = 7.
  • Together look at a small article in the newspaper, brochure, or magazine. Have him estimate how many times he sees the letters “Tt,” for example, and print his estimated number on a small piece of paper. Then have him or help him go back with a highlight marker to find and highlight the Tt’s in the article. Count the highlighted Tt’s together and print that number next to the estimate to see how close his guess came to the actual number.

Simple activities like these help a young student practice visual, auditory, and motor skills simultaneously, while making good use of items that might have just ended up in the bin!


> Improving Fluency With Nonsense Words

> Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

Does your child like to collect things? If so, turn those seashells, rocks, action figures, comic books, toy dinosaurs, into useful objects that promote math and Language Arts skills.

Here are three ways to involve math with collectibles:

  • Start by counting the objects different ways. He can count his collection by ones or skip-count by putting the objects into sets of two, five, or 10. Also, have him practice counting backwards, to zero, from the total number.
  • Help your child classify her collection. For example, if she collects seashells, have her sort them by size, color, shape, or markings.
  • When he wants to add to his collection, create a list of jobs he can do to earn and budget the money for new items.

To build Language Arts skills, try the following:

  • Have your child choose an object from his collection and tell or write a short fiction story about it. For example, tell how one of his action figures got “lost” from the others. Together, brainstorm ideas to get started. Or, he could write a short nonfiction story, telling details about the action figure and how he received it.
  • Increase her understanding of describing words by helping her list at least five (or more) different adjectives about an item in her collection. If she likes to collect stuffed animals, for example, some examples of words might be big, small, furry, soft, old, new, faded, cuddly, colorful, etc.
  • Take two or three of his small toy dinosaurs to the library and help him find nonfiction books that match. Help him read why his favorite Stegosaurus has plates on his back and spikes on his tail.

Collections are a wonderful activity for children.  They can also be a great tool for organizing and reinforcing academic skills.

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The ability to easily recall basic addition and subtraction facts is an important skill for a young student. One of the best ways to facilitate this is playing a simple game to reinforce addition and subtraction skills.  Here is an easy and fun math game that young students love to play.

Add or Subtract the Pennies (two or more players)
Items needed:

  • A large pile of pennies 
  • A pair of dice
  • A pencil and paper for each player


  • First player rolls one die and collects that many pennies from the pile.
  • Second player rolls a die and takes that number from the pile.
  • The players then become partners and write how many pennies they collected in a number sentence. For example, Player One rolled and collected 4 pennies; Player Two rolled and collected 6. Their number sentence would be 4+6=10.
  • Play until the pile of pennies is gone.
  • When players can easily add the single die totals, increase the difficulty. To do this each player rolls the pair of two dice and adds the total number of dots before collecting the pennies. An example could be Player One rolled 5+5 and collects 10 pennies. Player Two rolls 6+6 and collects 12 pennies. Added together their number sentence would be 10+12 = 22
  • For subtraction, have each player roll one die and subtract from the larger number. For example, if Player One rolls a 4 he can collect 4 pennies. Player Two rolls a 6, she collects 6 pennies. The partnership determines that 6 is more than 4, so from the 6 pennies that partner takes away 4 and determines the answer is 2. They then write a subtraction sentence 6–4 = 2.
  • Again, when the players can easily do the subtraction with one die rolls, increase the difficulty.  Players can roll two dice adding the dots together, and collect that many pennies. Partners determine the higher combined roll, then subtract the smaller number rolled from the higher. A number sentence might look like 12-6=6.

Using the combination of dice, pennies, and writing number sentences is great because it combines a visual with a hands-on component. Games such as this help young children become secure and fluent in addition and subtraction. “Fact Power” fluency builds math confidence for young students as they learn more advanced math!

> Use Pennies To Teach Common Core Math Skills

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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The ability to compare numbers helps your child understand quantity and number relationship. This understanding develops deeper math skills needed for more complex math operations in higher grades. One way to practice this skill is to help her understand the concept of “more and less.” Here are two simple activities to reinforce “more and less”:

  • Introduce your child to the more (">") and less ("<") signs. When I show these signs to young students I call it the “alligator’s mouth.” The alligator wants to eat “more,” so the open part always faces the bigger quantity. Cut a 4- or 5-inch “more” or “less” sign out of construction paper. It will look like a sideward “V.” Put out two piles of small objects such as pennies, crayons, Legos, etc. Leave a space between the two piles. Have her count the number in each pile and put the sign, with the open part, by the pile that shows more. Then read it together, left to right. For example, if the piles show 6 > 4, encourage her to say “6 is more than 4.” Put the smaller pile first, have her turn the sign to show 4 < 6. She should then be able to say, left to right, “Four is less than six.” Practice often with varying amounts. Once your child can easily do this activity, move on to the next activity.

  • Put two rows of pennies under each other. For example, put 8 pennies in the top row, and five pennies in the bottom row, aligned directly below the first five pennies in the top row. Ask him, “Which row shows more?” When he says “The top row,” ask “How many more?” Help him see, and count if needed, that there are 3 more pennies in the top row.  This activity visually demonstrates that 8 is 3 more than 5, and 5 is 3 less than 8. Keep playing with different number combinations to 10, always aligning the bottom row of pennies to the top row. For each set of rows made, help him determine how many “more” and conversely, how many “less.”

These two simple games can greatly aid your child in understanding the value of numbers, and the concept of quantity.


> Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

> A Fun Game Learn Addition and Subtraction


Using fine motor activities involving hand and finger movements is a great way to get a young child to practice and remember number concepts.

Here are two easy ways to mesh fine motor and simple math readiness skills for your kindergarten or 1st grade student.

Activity 1
You will need four items: index cards, any color marker, glue, and salt (or sand or sugar)


  • Use one index card for each number.
  • Write the numbers 0 to 10 with the marker in the middle of the card. Make the numbers large enough to be seen easily, about 4 to 5 inches.
  • With the glue, make a glue line to cover the number.
  • While the glue is wet, sprinkle the sand, salt, or sugar over the card. 
  • Set the cards aside to dry overnight.
  • When completely dry, shake any excess salt off the cards.
  • Have your child close her eyes and trace the number to identify it.
  • When she can easily “feel” and recognize 0 to 10, repeat the process for numbers 11 to 20.

Activity 2

You’ll need index cards or strips of construction paper, a handheld hole punch, and a pencil.


  • Write a simple addition sentence on the card or paper strip, leaving a line at the end for the answer. For example 2 + 3 = __
  • Using the hole punch, direct your child to squeeze the correct number of holes under each number—two holes under the 2, three holes under the 3.
  • Have him count the total number of holes to find the answer to the addition sentence, and then print the numeral 5 with the pencil on the solution line at the end.
  • Adding math to fine motor activities subtly reinforces facts while strengthening the small muscle groups of a young child’s hands and fingers.


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Estimation is an important math skill because it allows for a reasonable guess before something is actually measured or counted. Coming “close enough” to the actual number is a real accomplishment, and part of higher quantitative thinking. Developing your child’s sense of estimation goes beyond school math—it’s a life skill.

As adults we are constantly estimating. How long will it take to get there? Do I have enough coins for the parking meter? Will that size sweater fit Dad?

Here are some great ideas for fun estimating during the summer, using common household items to help your child become a good at it.

Start simply with one or two of these items. Then mix it up any way you and your child would like.

Items that can be used include:

  • A clear, small jar full of pennies
  • A large pitcher
  • A plastic measuring cup
  • A pail or large bowl of water
  • Paper clips
  • Blocks or Legos of the same size
  • A timer
  • Forks or spoons of the same size
  • Any safe household items of uniform length and width or size

Use any of the items above to present a question that needs solving, such as:

  • How many pennies do you think are in the jar?
  • How many cups of water do you think it will take to fill up the pitcher?
  • How many Legos do you think it takes to fill up the measuring cup?
  • How many blocks will fit across the doorway?
  • How many paper clips, laid end-to-end, are needed to measure the long side of a book?
  • How many spoons, laid end-to-end, does it take to line the side of the table?
  • How long will we set the timer to see how fast you can pick up those paper clips?

After your child has estimated how many items are needed to complete a task, or how long something takes, count and work the solutions out together.

Estimation is important for critical thinking and reasonable responses. Have fun practicing because the more young children can refine their estimation skills, the higher they develop number sense.

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Recognizing coins and understanding their value are two separate and important skills. Young students cannot be expected to add and subtract mixed coins, then understand the different value of each one, if they don’t first recognize individual coins.

In the United States we have four major coins in our exchange system: penny, nickel, dime, and quarter.

Understanding coins is like understanding fractions. They are part of a “whole” and can be added, subtracted, and exchanged.

Here are simple activities to help a young student recognize and identify different coins, then understand the value of coin combinations.
First, start by playing a Card Coin Match game. This is played with a jar full of mixed coins and this printable game board. The game board also subtly reinforces coin value.

Once your child can easily recognize and identify different coins, play Got Five! This game is for two players. For Got Five! you will need one die, 30 pennies, and 15 nickels. Here are the steps:

  • Put the pennies and nickels in one pile to make a bank.
  • Take turns rolling the die and collecting the number of pennies shown on the die. For example, roll a 4, collect four pennies.
  • Whenever one player has at least five pennies, he can “trade” them for a nickel, putting the pennies back in the bank.
  • The game ends when there are no more nickels left in the bank.

When your child masters Got Five!, introduce and play Got Ten! The directions are similar to those for Got Five! The bank for Got Ten! also includes 10 dimes as well as the 30 pennies and 15 nickels.

  • When the die is rolled, players make different combinations of pennies and nickels to trade for a dime.
  • When the dimes are gone, the game is over.

Having fun while learning with coins is a terrific way for young students to remember crucial skills needed for math success.

Very often, the best learning takes place when young students are just having fun. Here are some easy activities to do with your kindergarten or 1st grade child that will reinforce essential math and fine motor skills. You will need some household items:

  • yarn or string
  • tape
  • different colored or shaped macaroni, cereal with holes (such as Cheerios, Froot Loops, etc.,) beads or buttons
  • cardboard
  • glue, pencil, or marker

Start simply:

  • Tie a thick knot at the end of some string or yarn.
  • Tightly wrap some tape around the other end to form a “needle” for threading.
  • Thread patterns using the pasta, cereal, or beads (for example, yellow, green, red, then yellow, green, red). When the yarn is full, tie off the taped end and have your child review the pattern.
  • Or on a rectangular piece of cardboard, have your child glue buttons in a pattern from left to right, such as two small, one large or three white, two red, etc.

When your child gets proficient at the simple steps, increase the difficulty:

  • On the yarn or sting use the same color pasta or cereal in sets of five, then put a different shape or color to separate the sets. For example, five Cheerios, then one pasta, five more, then one pasta. When completed, have him use the sets to practice counting by fives. The same can be done for sets of ten.
  • On the top of a cardboard rectangle, glue 10 buttons from left to right. Have her or help her write the numbers underneath the buttons, counting and writing one to 10.
  • Use the buttons, pasta, or cereal to make addition sentences. On a rectangle strip of cardboard have him glue three Cheerios on the left. With a pencil or marker make a plus sign (+) after the group. To the right of the plus sign, he should glue a group of five Cheerios. After that group, make an equals sign (=), and have him glue eight Cheerios. Underneath, let him or help him write: 3 + 5 = 8.

Combining fine motor activities with math gives your child the opportunity to build a successful “product” while subtly reinforcing important educational concepts.

Young students should understand that, when looking at a two-digit number, the left number represents “10’s”, and the right number represents “1’s.” This is a critical math skill needed for subsequent math advancement.

Here is a simple way to help your child practice this concept. First practice counting by tens, to 100, until your child can easily and fluently do it herself (10, 20, 30, etc.).

Then follow these steps:

  • Take an 8 ½ x 11 inch paper and fold it, vertically, in the middle. You should have two equal columns. Trace the fold line, top to bottom, so the columns can clearly be seen.
  • On the top of the left column, print the word “tens” using all lowercase letters. 
  • On top of the right column, print the word “ones.”
  • Say the number 24 (as an example) to your child.
  • With a pencil, make two thin vertical rectangles, about an inch long, to represent two tens, in the left-hand tens column.
  • Make four small dots in the right-hand ones column, directly across from the two rectangles in the tens column.
  • Count the vertical rectangles by tens and count the dots by one. Help your child count the number using the rectangles and dots. Start with the tens column and move across to the ones column. “Ten, twenty, then twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four.”
  • After practicing a few different two-digit numbers together, say a two-digit number, and see if she can draw the rectangles and dots in the correct columns. Practice until she can easily show you the tens and ones in a two-digit number.

Knowing that two-digit numbers can be broken apart into tens and ones, then put back together, gives your child a deeper concept of how math operations work. Understanding place value goes beyond memorization and teaches the “why” of addition and subtraction.


> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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