Monday, November 15, 2010

Algebra In Kindergarten? You Can't Be Serious!!

So, what does math in Kindergarten look like?  Parents should know that unlike the developmental stages of writing, math learning does not necessarily develop in a continuum.  Think of all of the concepts below as objects on the horizon that your child can reach out and grab at any given time.  Generally there are some that will occur prior to others, but essentially they all intertwine together.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, students exiting kindergarten should be able to do the following:

Numbers and Operations:
  • rote count to 100 and recognize numbers to 31
  • recognize 1/2 of a shape
  • use concrete items to compose and decompose values up to 10
  • connect number words (orally) and quantities they represent
Algebraic Relationships:
  • recognize or repeat sequences of sounds or shapes
  • create and continue patterns
  • model situations that involve whole numbers, using pictures, objects or symbols
Geometric and Spatial Relations:
  • identify and describe 2 & 3 dimensional shapes using physical models
  • describe, name and interpret relative positions in space 
  • use manipulatives to recognize from different perspectives and orientations models of slides and turns
  • compare and order objects according to their size or weight
  • describe passage of time using terms such as today, yesterday, tomorrow
  • identify and know the value of a penny, nickel, dime and quarter
  • measure objectives by comparison of lengths
Data and Probability:
  • sort items according to their attributes
  • create graphs using physical objects

So what can I do?
Math surrounds us every day in everyday situations.  Therefore, to support your child's math development there is no need to break the bank with fancy learning toys or computer games.  The most important thing to remember is that 'drill & practice' is not the answer.  Children learn best through meaningful hands on experiences that support their development.  Below are a few ideas to get you started in each mathematical strand.

Numbers and Operations:
    • Children learn best through play, therefore playing games that encourage synchronic counting will give your child a meaningful reason to use sequential counting for a purpose.
    • "I'll Time You"  Children love to see how fast they can complete a task.  Tell your child that you'll time them, then count aloud as they rush to beat their time.
    • Remove several number cards from a deck of playing cards. Provide a small bowl of m&m's or other small objects. Take turns with your child, choosing a card, naming the numeral shown on the card, and laying the corresponding number of objects next to the card.
    • If you have stairs inside or outside your home, use masking tape to number them. As you climb the steps together, count the numbers aloud.
    • Point out numerals in their environment. ex.,signs, license plates, mailboxes, clocks, etc...
    • Using a calendar, count down the days until a special event.  "In four days, you get to spend the night with grandma."
    • Break a cookie in half and share it. "Half for you and half for me."
    • Write down grandma's phone number, have your child touch the numbers on the phone as you call.
    • Sing familiar songs that use numbers and counting
    • Change the words of familiar counting songs to make them silly or personalized for your child.
  • Read books that have counting and numerals.

Algebraic Relationships:

    • Do a clap and tap rhythm pattern for your child to copy.  As her ability to copy improves, create more complicated patterns.  Let her create a pattern for you to follow.  
    • Create a mealtime pattern.  Alternate between water, milk, juice to drink with meals. Encourage them to predict what will come next.
    • Make a pattern with your child's colored fish crackers and see if they can continue it.
    • Listen to and sing songs that have repeating patterns. The Chicken Dance is a fun patterning song to dance to.
  • Read books that have patterns.

Geometric and Spatial Relations:
      • Set up an obstacle course for your child and talk about how he is crawling under the table, through the box, over the cushion, etc.
    • Play Simon Says with your child using positional words like "on your head" or "behind your back"
      • Spread a few familiar objects on the floor in front of your child. Describe an object using positional words or shape words  “I spy something that is square behind the keys.”  See if your child can guess the object. Take turns giving clues and guessing.
    • Have fun with making shapes.  Use sand or shaving cream to write in or play dough to build with and model the correct formation of shapes.
    • Point out and name shapes in their environment.  Look for shapes in nature, in your home, and in pictures.
    • Create edible shapes with pretzels or string cheese.
    • Going on a Bear Hunt is a great song that reinforces positional words.
  • Read books about shapes or positional words.

    • Have your child roll a die and build a tower using the same number of blocks as the number shown on the cube.  Then you take a turn.  Ask your child, "Whose tower is bigger?"
    • When having to take turns to do an activity, uses size comparisons to determine who goes first.  "The shortest person goes first today."  "The person with the longest arm span will go first."
    • Use time words with your child. "We will go to the store after we eat lunch?"  or  "Grandma will pick you up tomorrow."
    • During meal times, we often use the term more,  "Would you like more?"  Start using the word 'less' just as often.  "Do you want 3 crackers or less?" This is often a difficult concept for kindergartners to grasp.
  • Read books using comparing words.

    • Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a great story using comparison words.

Data & Probability:
    • Play tic-tac-to with your child and have her tally the wins of each player.
    • Take a family vote on what to eat for supper.  Have your child stack blocks to graph each person's vote and determine a winner.
    • Using Trail Mix again, have your child sort the mix any way they choose and ask them to describe how they sorted them.
    • Sing songs that emphasize categories, such as Old MacDonald's Farm.

Simply remember that we experience mathematical situations everyday.  
Simply share these experiences with your children and be amazed as they develop into a mathematician before your very eyes.


  1. Love it, Tammy. Here we see things to look at in the future... followed by concrete steps to foster growth in that direction. A valuable resource. Keep up the good work. ;)

  2. Thanks Sean!!! I have found that many parents capitalize on the intrigue of 'homework' to their young children, spending time with worksheets and flashcards as a means to develop their math skills. That 'intrigue' quickly wears off and the 'drill & practice' can become monotonous and frustrating. We hope that this offers parents some ideas to incorporate math into their everyday experiences.