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Build Early Math Skills With This Fuss-Free Addition Activity!
  • Nowadays, it seems as if teaching math in school is more focused on having kids memorize numbers and how to solve given equations. Susie Allison, a former teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom, this might be ridding children of the opportunity to truly absorb the skills they are being taught.

    The blogger behind Busy Toddler writes, “They don’t actually know the WHY or HOW behind the math, just the quick and easy way to find the answer. It’s like trying to be a 2D object in a 3D world. It’s really hard to make connections when you’ve only learned to memorize ways to solve the problem.”

    To help build her child’s conceptual understanding of math, Susie used a fun activity that only involves minimal prep time and simple supplies any parent will likely have at home.

    Susie shares that instead of the word “addition,” which can be hard for a young child to understand, she prefers to use more easily-understood words like “join” or “combine.” So when introducing the activity to your child, you can tell her that you’ll be “joining two groups” rather than “adding” them.

    All you need to prepare is three paper plates, small toys or items to serve as counters (like buttons, toy insects, or even LEGO bricks), and a deck of playing cards (numbers 2 to 6).

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    Set down the plates. Put one card on each the first and second ones, then explain to your child, “We are going to combine or join a group of cars with a group of buttons.”


    As you explain the first step, place your counters on the plates according to the number of the card placed on each one. For example, if you have a number 3 card on your first plate, place 3 counters on it, and if you have a number 5 card on your second plate, place 5 counters on it. These will give your child a concrete representation of the numbers you are combining. Ask her to help you count the number of counters on each plate.

    Next, take the first two plates and transfer their contents onto the third plate. Explain to your child, “We just took our group of cars and our group of buttons. Now, let’s see how many cars and buttons we have!”

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    Once you finish counting, say, “So if you have a group of 3 cars and you join it with a group of 5 buttons, you get a giant group of 8 cars and buttons? That’s amazing!” Later, encourage your tot to repeat the activity as many times as she wants using different numbers and counters each time. Remember that you don’t have to use big numbers; smaller digits work best when it comes to introducing addition to kids, says Susie.

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    Susie writes that while this activity won’t guarantee a child will memorize mathematical facts or readily recall number sentences, she will have a more concrete understanding of what happens when two numbers are combined or joined. It’s also a fun activity that will keep her entertained.

    “The goal is NOT to be quickest at addition at this age. The goal is to learn WHAT addition is and what happens WHEN we join numbers together,” she says.

    Even at home, you can do simple activities to exercise your child’s brain and help her get a headstart on concepts she will learn in school. Click here for ideas on brain activities you can do with her.

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