Math for Preschoolers: More Than Just Counting

Preschool-age children are ready to explore more than one might think! Parents often focus on counting from one to ten, but there are many other skills that children are ready and able to investigate.

Familiarity with Numbers

This includes the basic counting aloud, but also identifying printed digits and practicing one-to-one correspondence (pointing to actual objects and counting aloud one by one). Before a car ride, give your child a paper with a number (0-9) printed on it. Then challenge him to find as many of that number as he can during the ride, on signs, billboards, license plates, etc. One-to-one correspondence can be practiced during most snacks by counting crackers, fruit snacks, or carrot sticks.

Number Operations

We're not looking at E=mc2 or multiplication tables yet. Joining sets and dividing groups is age-appropriate. This can be as simple as counting a pile of red blocks, then a pile of blue blocks, then counting them all together. Or taking six cookies and dividing among three friends.


No rulers required. To introduce time, make reference to clocks and calendars and talk about "today, yesterday, and tomorrow." For comparisons, a child can pull all the socks and underwear out of her drawer, then count each group. Which group has more and which has less? (Bonus: the drawer is organized when everything goes back in!) Help children use non-standard measurements by asking questions such as, "How many spoons long is the table?"


Beginning geometry is simple shape recognition. A grocery store is the perfect place for a shape search. Look for rectangles, triangles, circles, squares. There are also many good games and books available to work on this concept.

Patterns and Sorting

Preschool children can make simple patterns and repeat them, using shapes and color recognition skills to guide them. When putting toy cars into a row, encourage a pattern, such as "blue, blue, red, yellow, blue, blue, red, yellow." Make a game of sorting toys and household items by attributes such as size, color, shape, etc.

Preschool isn't just about 1, 2, 3s and A, B, Cs. It's about teaching your child to take joy in learning, and to recognize that the world is full of fun lessons waiting to happen!

by Jen Sherwin