Teaching Math to young children

A parent wrote to me: “We know that STEM education is important but no matter how many hours we spend helping our five years old son with math, he does not like math. We are afraid that our son may not do well in Science or Technology when he goes to high school and college. Do you have any suggestion?

Answer: Teaching math to young children is not easy because their brain has not fully developed yet. Instead of teaching math using traditional exercises, you should focus on something easy to get him to interest in numbers before asking him to solve problems. At that age, you should NOT make him working on math problems but turn it into a learning experience or a “game” that both of you can play together.

For example: “Tell me how many bananas are there? After he answers, you can ask: “if I add three more banana in then how many bananas are there? By playing adding or subtracting objects with young children, you can make math more fun and easy. Of course, you can use anything that children like such as fruits, marbles, money, books, toys, animals, trees, cars and let him count the number of objects you have available.

Math is easy to teach when you use physical objects and let them count, add, subtract and multiply than using numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 4 ….etc. You may allow the child to cut a piece of fruit or cookie to teach them how to add and subtract fractions. For example, 1/4 of a cookie + 1/4 of a cookie = 1/2 of a cookie. Put the pieces together for him to see the cookie half.

You should use math in your daily activities to get your child get interested in playing with you for example: “How many blue cars are passing in front of our house now? At $1 a cookie, how many cookies can we buy when we have $5? There are six oranges in this box if you eat two then how many are left? If you show him how much fun math can be, he will gain an enthusiasm for learning and once he enjoys learning, there is no stopping him from asking for more.

The important is to spend the time to “play” with your children as children learn from the interacting with you so do NOT make math into something difficult but make it an enjoyable activity. A young child will learn more when the whole family is interested in playing along because he will consider this is a fun game to play. On the other hand, you can make your child’s fear of math if you make it an obligation or something he must do .

Thousand years ago, Pythagoras, the Greek’s philosopher wrote: “If you want your children to read, then you must read first. If you want your child to like math, you must like math first. Children learn mostly from their parents so what you want your children to do, you must do it first.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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