Puzzles, games, and group activities make math lessons fun! For children, these activities ignite a desire to learn in those who may appear uninterested, and your job as a teacher becomes easier as you turn ordinary lessons and recreation into super-charged adventure! Begin making math a part of your daily curriculum with the following activity ideas:
Math Across the Curriculum
1. Logical Thinking Activities. Teach basic shapes by planning a Shape Hunt. For example, hold up a circle and say, “This is a circle. What can you tell me about a circle?” It has no corners and it is round. “Let’s make a circle with our fingers, now our arms. Can you look for other shapes in our room?” Circles may be found in a wall clock, a doorknob, the top of a wastebasket, the eraser of a pencil, or wheels on toys.
2. Seriation Activities. Catalogue the different types of food your children eat for breakfast or for lunch. Create simple bar or pie graphs that clearly show the quantity of different food items in comparison with one another. For another seriation activity, cut strips of ribbon into different lengths. Ask the children to place the ribbon from shortest to longest, then reverse the activity from longest to shortest.
3. Measurement Activities. All children love to cook. Plan a simple recipe where children measure with cups and tablespoons. Try an additional measurement activity by using a ruler or yardstick, blocks, or pencils to measure a table, a small rug, or a bookcase. Smaller areas can be measured by using paper clips.
4. Shape Activities. Hunt for shapes in magazines and catalogues or make a wall mural using a specific shape. Try marking off large shapes on the floor with masking tape and then encourage the children to walk, crawl, or skip on the form to internalize the pattern.
5. Numeral Activities. Divide a paper plate into six sections. Write the numeral one to six on each section. Supply clothespins. Guide the child to place the correct number of clothespins on each section.
6. Opposite Activities. Collect items that are opposite like rough/smooth (example: fabric samples and rocks) and encourage the children to describe the differences. Encourage them to find and describe other opposites found in the classroom including: thick/thin, many/few, first/last, empty/full, wide/narrow, open/closed, up/down, and big/little.
7. Pattern Activities. For younger children or those with learning challenges, begin pattern activities using a two-color or two-shape pattern. Older children may be given additional attributes and will be able to create patterns using several colors or shapes. Patterns can also be created using pasta shapes strung on cord, building blocks, or by clapping syllables for the children’s names at circle time.
Encouraging Math Skills With Games
In addition to creating math activities across the curriculum, you can create simple and fun games for children to play that encourage the development of math skills. Here are just a few examples for you to try.
1. Bouncing the Ball. The teacher bounces a large ball as the children count the number of bounces. When she stops, a child is asked to give the last number called. If correct, the child becomes the bouncer. Another child guesses, and the game continues.
2. Cat and Mice. Let the children pretend they are cats. Give small counting cubes representing mice to each child. Divide the children into two groups of cats. When the first group closes their eyes to go to sleep, the second group of “cats” catches some “mice” from the first group. When a buzzer sounds or a teacher says stop, the children open their eyes and report how many mice were taken.
3. Let's Go Fishing. Cut out fish shapes from construction paper. Add numbers one through ten. Place a heavy-duty paper clip on each fish. Make a fishing pole from a small dowel and a string. Attach a magnet to the end. Mark off an area for the pond. Place fish in the pond and take turns catching the fish. Encourage the children to identify the number on each fish caught.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin has taught early childhood education at Union University. She writes for numerous educational publications.