7 Math concepts your preschooler actually needs to know

Math. I don’t know how about you but I hated math when I was younger. I didn’t have a good foundation and therefore I struggled to learn more difficult concepts later on. Math is usually the dreaded part of homework no one wants to do. Especially during the summer! Even though the math for preschoolers looks super easy for you…it’s just some shapes and numbers after all!…remember it’s hard for your kiddo. I’m sure there are many other activities he would rather do than learning to count to hundred or do some simple addition and subtraction homework. That is why it is so important to make it fun! Be creative! Math can be a lot of fun. Show your child that he doesn’t need to be intimidated by the big numbers, patterns and math problems. When kids learn all the fun ways they can use math in their life, they are more likely to develop a positive relationship to this infamous subject and rock it later in life as well!

Let’s look at the seven most important math concepts to master before they go to elementary school.


Every 4-year-old and 5-year-old child should be able to recognize numerals all the way to 100. When I was teaching Pre-K I practiced number recognition with the kids every single day! It is hard to keep children’s attention, especially when you have twenty of them in the classroom and everyone is just ready to be done with all this circle time torture and wants to go play with friends. I tried all kinds of strategies and games to keep kids’ attention and help them learn their numbers. The most successful game I came up with was a simple “number game” (as my kids in the classroom called it). What we did is we had a board with all the numbers written on it. I said a random number between 1 – 100 and my student had to locate the number. If he/she found the number without my help, they could go play. But if I had to help them they had to sit back down and try again when it is their turn. My five-year-olds ended up loving this game. One day when our circle time dragged out longer than I expected we didn’t have time to play, I just sent them to go open centers and play for a bit. My kiddos looked at me all confused and asked “Ms. Jana, we can’t go play without playing number game!”. I was so proud of them and I loved watching them be all happy when they guessed the number and ran to play. You could see the sense of satisfaction in their eyes. They learned numbers and they earned their play time. They felt proud of themselves and I couldn’t be happier to see how fast they progressed!

Addition and subtraction

Help your preschooler with understanding addition and subtraction by explaining the concept with fun subjects. One of my kids’ favorite way to do this was with the cereal such as Froot Loops. Sit down with your kids for breakfast and while eating their cereal, why don’t we use a few of them for learning? Place two cereal loops down on the table and ask your kid count it. Then make another pile of five cereal and as your child count that too. Then ask him how many is two plus five? Explain what plus means and then explain that they are practically counting those two piles of cereal together. Your child will have a visual help and can count the cereal in both piles. This will help him understand the concept better than the usual counting on their fingers. You can change numbers as you practice.
Do the same for explaining them subtraction. For example, place nine fruit loops cereals on the table and then say you are subtracting two cereal. Show them what subtraction means and pull those two loops on the side to demonstrate the subtraction. Have them count how many cereals is left after you subtracted the two loops. Make up different numbers and math problems as you go.
You can do the same with any other objects your child will have fun with. How about using plastic army men, little plastic animals, counting bears or marbles? The sky is the limit! Doesn’t matter what objects you use as long as it keeps your child entertained, engaged and she’s learning!


Believe it or not, practicing shapes can be one of the most entertaining ways to travel in the car! Point out various objects you see and ask your child to identify what shape they resemble. This game can be very challenging at times and will keep your big kid’s mind going for a while. I see the traffic lights. What shapes do I see? There are 2 shapes! Circle and rectangle! And how about the evergreen on the side of the road? Doesn’t it remind you of the cone a little bit? You can go on and on like this for as long as your child is entertained.
You can also play “I spy shapes”. “I spy with my little eye something that has a shape of a rectangle!”. (Mirror on the inside of the front windshield.) Your child can guess what it is and you can also help him identify shapes along the way. He might say “The window on the house!”. If the window is a perfect square, it’s a great time to explain the difference between square and rectangle. This is a great way how your child learns his shapes.
When guessing shapes, try to encourage your little student to distinguish between 2D and 3D shape. Many children need a little help with recognizing what is 2D and what is 3D shape and this game is perfect for teaching them that.


When children go to preschool, teachers have printed papers with pictures to teach kids “more, less, equal to”. Children in my class always enjoyed pictures of groups where they had to circle which group has more, or which one has less. For example draw (or print) on paper a group of 3 fishes and then a group of 4 fishes next to each other. Draw a few more groups of various objects (hearts, sun, lollipops, flowers…anything your child enjoys) and ask your child to circle the groups that have more or circle groups that have less (it is up to you!). You can also throw in a few groups that have an equal amount and ask your child to draw an equal sign between groups if the groups have an equal amount of pictures. Kids have fun with this project, especially if you make it black and white and they can color pictures after they are done! They will be excited to learn and then have a cool coloring page as a reward. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. 🙂 You can also practice during the day while you are travelling, having lunch together or doing errands. Engage your child in fun learning activity during breakfast and ask her if she has more strawberries on the plate than you. Ask her if there is more windows or doors in the car and watch her trying to count the car door and windows while she sits in her car seat. You can do this activity anywhere. Don’t forget to throw some other activities into the mix (number game; I spy shapes, colors, letters …) so your child doesn’t get bored with the same thing over and over.

Describe 5 step procedure

Practicing sequence with your child is very important for their brain development so they understand more complicated math concepts later on. I think the best way to practice this is with sequencing cards. You can make your own cards as well.  I always like the classing hand washing procedure. Print 5 pictures with hand washing steps – 1. wet hands, 2. soap up, 3. rinse the soap, 4. dry hands with the paper towel, 5. turn off the water with the paper towel. You can also use any other activity and break it into 5 steps. Some of our classroom popular pictures were with preparing cereal with milk and strawberries (1. get the bowl, 2. pour in cereal, 3. put in strawberries, 4. pour in milk, 5. eat!), or putting on the clown costume (1. picture of clown with wig, red nose, hat and magic wand, 2. clown putting wig on, 3. clown putting hat on, 4. clown putting nose on, 5. clown holding magic wand). The clown one is harder because they have to look at the picture more closely and figure out what the clown has put on already and what is still missing. It is a great activity where they can learn to pay attention to details.


If you have a girl, there is no better way to learn patterns that get some beads, string and make some bracelets and necklaces! Make a unique pattern out of 6 beads and have your child follow that pattern. You can let them follow the pattern until they make a necklace, or you can set a certain amount of pattern you want them to do (this is a bit harder!). Tell them to make the pattern 6 times. Watch them putting beads on the string and remind them that they need to do the pattern 6 times, no more and no less. You can also make edible necklaces out of Cheerios and Froot Loops. The edible necklace is fun for boys too. Kids love projects that are fun and Froot Loops definitely equal fun as far as kiddos are concerned! You can also make a pattern out of plastic army men or blocks…anything you want. The main focus is on your child following whatever pattern you started.


Playing a puzzle with your child is not only good for their brain, but for yours too. A puzzle is great for sharpening your little one’s analytical and logical thinking. When kids play with the puzzle, their mind is working really hard trying to find the right pictures and analyze the pieces of the puzzle. Get your child puzzle with pictures of his favorite tv show or a cool picture of something she loves. The underwater puzzle is so popular in our classroom that I can build it with my eyes closed! Kids also LOVED farm puzzle and The United States puzzle. Or have it made out of your family picture. Companies, such as Shutterfly, will make a puzzle of any picture you choose. Or take a picture you already have at home and cut it into larger pieces. You do not need to try to cut it to look like a real puzzle shape. You can cut triangles, rectangles or any irregular shapes you wish. I am sure your child will have a lot of fun with this nontraditional puzzle variation! Have fun with it and get creative when choosing pictures you will cut. You can also print out some fun coloring pages, have your child color it and then cut it up and make a puzzle out of it! Just make sure your child is ok with you cutting his masterpiece. Nobody is going to learn much if your child is crying over his cut-up masterpiece, blaming you for ruining it. Not fun at all!

What do you like to do to help your kids with math concepts? Did you try any of these ideas? How did they work for you?

Do you want ideas for learning alphabet as well? Try these fun alphabet activities for preschoolers!

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Disclaimer:  Mommy’s Little World can’t guarantee a certain outcome when using recommended products or strategies. Please make sure products you use with or around kids are safe and age appropriate.
Although I am a preschool teacher, I am not your child’s preschool teacher, and I do not know your exact situation. Please consult with his/her teacher, pediatrician or educational specialist if you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s development and education.



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