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Preparing Your Child for First Grade Math

This post is about preparing your child for first-grade math in daily life without worksheets or flashcards Parents are so busy with care, feeding, developmental milestones, birthday parties, family, and friends from the time a child is born until he or she attends first grade, that it is very easy to overlook developing math concepts to prepare the child for first grade. Most parents realize they should read to their children, and the more books the better. But with the constant demands and work of parenting, some parents neglect to help a child develop math skills beyond counting and perhaps some flashcards.

licensedgraphicforclockWhy do I say this? As an experienced teacher of 28 years including thirteen in first grade, I have seen many children enter class so very ready for reading, while not being adequately prepared for math. Am I suggesting parents do math worksheets and workbooks? No, not at all. When parents proudly tell me they have their child do worksheets, I so badly want to tell them math is not  “naked numbers” as teachers sometimes call that kind of preparation. There is a place for work pages, but not while the child is very young, and worksheets do not hold a candle to the natural math opportunities in everyday life.

FIrst Grade Here I Come cover photo

For instance, here is an easy idea if you are a parent who reads to young children: on a second or third or fourth reading of a favorite book, begin to point out the numbers at the bottom of the page. Ask your child what number comes next? After the child can predict 1 though 10, what about the number after 19, 29, and 39? It is so valuable for your child to be able to recognize the written form of the number, as well as seeing an actual use of numbering at the same time.

Money Math

Preparing Your Child for First Grade Math Here are some more authentic ways to incorporate money math into everyday life, so it is meaningful to the child. Let your child have some experience with shopping and change (with coins not dollars).  How can parents do that when we round everything off to the nearest dollar and use credit or debit cards.

Let your child spend 50 cents or so at a garage sale. You may have to toss whatever is dragged home, but the math learning is invaluable.

lemonade stand or something similar will also provide some experiences with coins. Even if the only customers are the family and a few others, coins (and math) will take on new meaning and importance.

A mother told me this great tip:  she let her child have the change when she used cash and if the child could count the coin change, he could keep it. If not, she explained how to count it and the little brother got half the money.  In no time at all, her child could count coins. Smart parent!

Preparing Your Child for First Grade Math

Play family games like Yahtzee or Life where math is used. Board games can teach many skills. Just think about Yahtzee, it is really multiplication readiness, even if you help count.

If you drop a coin just say, “Please pick up the nickel,” rather than “Could you pick that up for me?” Such a simple thing helps children learn if we remember to be precise in our speech. While waiting at the doctor or dentist, your child could practice naming and counting change in your purse or wallet.

Preparing Your Child for First Grade Math For children who can add and subtract, think about easy multiple step problems. For instance, if two children go shopping, each has $10, one spends $8 and one spends $9, how much money is left over in all? How much more does one have than the other? Multiple step math problems from actual life experiences will have meaning and show the child a reason for math.

Coins are a big part of the first-grade math lessons and involves skip counting, counting on, counting back, and so on. Many math homework pages from programs like Everyday Math have dozens of worksheets involving coins, during the early grade years. When children are tired from their first full days of school and growing socially and emotionally, it is difficult for parents to try to introduce new skills like counting coins. Children who enter first grade able to do this are ahead of other children in math class.

Prepare to Tell Time

Preparing Your Child for First Grade Math  For preparing to tell time, children need some awareness of the different kinds of clocks and telling time. Don’t expect your child to answer questions like when will grandma be here if she arrives in 3 hours and 40 minutes.


Point to clocks when you say it is a certain time and do not expect the child to understand at first.

Mention that the digital time is the same as time on the analog clock . . . it is never 300 o’clock!

Have your child look and tell what the time is on the hour when he or she is ready.

If you need your child to be quiet a minute, time with a second hand, and let your child watch.


Measuring things around the house? Show your child what you are doing. Say things like, “I’m using a yardstick to measure for the new oven.”  Name the measuring tool such as the ruler, yardstick, meter stick, or tape measure.  Explain the ruler measures inches, the yardstick measures inches and up to three feet, or that the meter stick measures 100 centimeters. This will help your child not hit a wall with the first measurement lesson in school. When it is time for homework, also, your child will have some comprehension of why and what we measure.

Thank you for reading.

.Carolyn Wilhelm.