Math is one of the most anxiety-inducing four-letter words. If just the thought of math takes you back to those long, confusing hours spent in algebra, you might avoid it at all costs when working with your 3-year-old. Fortunately, you can relax because preschoolers develop math skills through play. Rather than solving for X, your budding brainiac will gain an awareness of and appreciation for math while having fun and bonding with you. Engaging, three-dimensional objects take the place of boring worksheets to keep preschoolers involved and entertained. Through those activities, you might even gain an appreciation for math as well.
You might feel goofy sitting down for tea with a 3-year-old, Strawberry Shortcake, Frank the teddy bear and a stuffed zebra, but pretend tea parties present fulfilling learning opportunities, including the development of preschool math skills. While setting up the tea party, your 3-year-old can practice one-to-one correspondence by giving each guest a seat, plate and cup. A basic math skill and precursor to counting, one-to-one correspondence involves matching objects according to number. Encourage your little hostess to count while handing out the supplies and she will acquire math skills without even realizing it. She will also gain social skills while interacting with you and the stuffed party-goers.
Your preschooler certainly won't find the volume of a cylinder or identify an equilateral triangle for a long time, but she can start to learn basic shapes and understand the concept of size. Get down on the floor with your 3-year-old and a variety of blocks. While building with blocks, give her directions such as, "Place the triangle on top of the square." This action not only allows her to identify specific shapes, but also introduces spatial relationships. Take the activity further by showing your child how shapes can combine and take on new identities. For instance, two squares form a rectangle and two triangles make up a diamond.
By the age of 3, children have the ability to sort items by at least one attribute at a time. Sorting opportunities arise all around the home once you look for them. While playing with toy cars, ask your child to group the cars according to color. Once she sorts them into piles, switch it up and see whether she can sort the cars by size or model. With all of the cars separated into piles, you can count the results together, determine which group has the most cars and even create a chart to record the results. Sorting games also come in handy when it's time for little ones to put clothes and toys away.
Because 3-year-olds can distinguish differences in objects, they can also begin to recognize and create simple patterns. Bring math to the dinner table with fun fruit patterns. Start by giving your little one just two types of fruit for alternating. After she gets comfortable making an A-B pattern, add a third type of fruit and let her try using all three. Arrange fruit on your own plate with more complex patterns, showing your kiddo the many types of patterns she can make. Fruits that work well with this activity include sliced bananas, strawberries, kiwi, blueberries and chunks of pineapple. With careful supervision, your 3-year-old can even slide the fruit onto a skewer for a tasty fruit kabob.