How to teach your child basic maths

It’s a lot of fun, teaching your child numbers – even the tiniest people hear their parents counting and want to join in.

And that’s the kind of learning numbers we’re talking about here – the fun kind.

The child-led kind.

We’re not about getting a head start on education, instead we’re going to encourage and explore and play with numbers.

Because that way your child’ll think it’s fun and cool to do activities with you.

So if you’d like to support your newly-in-school child with learning mathematics, this is a guide to help you do just that – without spending your entire life scouring Instagram or buried in a workbook.

It’s not about workbooks or apps or 1000 Instagram perfect activities

Those things don’t hurt. They’re helpful tools to guide you.

And before you rush off and buy every colour of marker, know that you don’t need to be a teacher to do a great job of supporting your child’s maths education.

You also don’t need to start adding up when they’re 2 years old (or three).

You do need to have a basic understanding of what they need to learn and roughly in what order (hint: that’s about to start) – and you also need to keep your eyes and ears open so you can tell how they’re doing from the things they say and do.

And as they master one thing, you’ll guide them towards the next.

Sound ok?

And you’re probably wondering…

~ When should you start?

~ What do they need to learn?

~ How can you teach them that?

~ What kinds of activities might work?

~ How will you know they’ve got it?

~ Then what? What do you do next?

But you don’t need to know everything already – you can just start somewhere.

So for now let’s stick to what they need to learn to do – we’ll get to the rest soon enough.

Because your child can probably do quite a lot already.

Maths skills your child has already

Mathematics isn’t just numbers but numbers are what we’re going to focus on in this guide.

But mathematics starts before your child even learns to count. When you explain the difference between a square and a triangle and you match up the pieces of a basic puzzle – that’s mathematics too.

(If they recognise which is a square and which is a triangle, they’ll likely be able to recognise which number is 2 and which is 3 when the time comes.)

Recognising that some objects are bigger and some are smaller – or that your big brother got more cake than you – is all part of maths.

Peg board patterns and symmetrical butterfly paintings and home made balances and pouring activities are too.

Putting cheerios onto sticks of spaghetti? Which one has the most? Which one has the least? No need to count – you can look and see. Maths.

You get the idea.

How to teach your child basic maths

And the reason you see activities like these for little kids isn’t just to keep them quiet for five minutes so you can get your coffee hot for a change.

It’s because play is the best way for little kids to learn.

Play is how they learn everything (I’m looking at you, walking, talking and eating) – until suddenly you’re made to feel like you need to intervene and teach them ‘proper’ stuff like numbers and letters – even though your child’s still two or three years old.

But there is no ‘proper’, no ‘real learning’. You don’t need to ‘get serious’ about your child’s learning.

And you don’t need to stop playing to teach your child maths.

Enjoying learning is important

Keep playing and they’ll keep learning – and more importantly, they’ll like it.

That’s because creating hands-on activities grabs kids’ attention and teaches them to enjoy exploring and experimenting.

And when you like doing something, you want to do more of it.

Plus you get all the motor skills development and conversation.

It’s easy to get numbers and counting in there too if you know how (yes, we’re going to cover that).

So if you’ve been doing play activities like these all along, your child probably has a good basis ready for learning number skills.

(Side note: the activities you create will be way simpler and 100% repeatable.)

teach child basic math

Counting, calculations and everything in between

So, counting and calculations, right?

Yes. Every child needs to learn to count and to do addition and subtraction calculations – and then multiplication and division later on.

This guide’ll walk you through that whole process – and there are a lot of little skills and pieces of knowledge that go into and support every big skill.

So as well as learning to count forwards and backwards, there’s also number recognition, number patterns and ordering numbers – before we ever get to a plus or minus sign.

But don’t worry – we’re going to cover counting, sums and everything that goes into that – and if you’re starting to feel like you don’t have time for all this, I promise none of it will take very long.

How mathematics learning works

Already, we can see that maths learning is a big process with multiple skills working together and needed for success – like the bricks in a wall.

If a skill’s missing, the wall will be less steady.

And there’s nearly always more to a skill that you first think. Let’s take counting as an example.

I bet your little one was saying 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 when they were two years old.

Maybe they didn’t get all the way to ten back then – maybe some of the numbers weren’t quite in the right order – but kids start counting early because we praise them when they do and they like that and they keep doing it.

So you think they can count – but they probably can’t – at least, not like you think they can.

What does being able to count look like?

Saying the number words in the correct order IS counting – obviously it is.

But it’s not ALL of counting.

Can they count from any number or does it have to be from one?

Can they count a set of objects correctly or do they not know when to stop and keep going after all the things should’ve been counted?

Can they recognise all the numbers to ten or twenty?

Can they put those numbers in order – even if some are missing?

Did you notice that you just mentally assessed your child against those questions?

Were there any that made you think, “I don’t know?”

If there were, create an activity to find out.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Let’s take a quick walk through the world of learning to count…