Big and little. Large and small. Tall and short. Your preschooler is probably noticing these concepts every day without even knowing it, every time he picks a wider piece of pizza or compares his height to his buddy's or complains that his sister's slice of cake has more. Applying names to those concepts and sorting things by size -- and doing it in a fun, playful way -- can give your child a good start on the road toward learning math. In their joint statement "Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings," the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics proclaim that "A positive attitude toward mathematics and a strong foundation for mathematics learning begin in early childhood." Parents can be a big part of that, and have a good time doing it too.

Big and Little

Place a group of big and little shoes on a table.

Explain the concept of big and little to your preschooler. Start the explanation by showing him a big and a little shoe. Describe each object using the word "big" or "little." Ask your preschooler to repeat the words. Make it fun by saying, "Daddy's shoe is big and your shoe is little."

Pick up a shoe and ask your preschooler if it is big or little. Explain the difference each time his answer is wrong. Repeat the process until he understands the concept with only one or two mistakes. Ask him to find all of daddy's big shoes and put them in one pile and all of the little shoes in another pile.

Tall and Short

Place a selection of tall and short toys on a table.

Explain the difference between tall and short by pointing to the tall toys and asking your preschooler to hold them and say they are tall toys. Repeat the process with the short toys.

Ask your preschooler to sort the tall and short toys into two separate piles. Help him place the toys in the correct pile and explain the difference when he makes a mistake. If he puts a short toy in the tall pile, place the two toys side by side. Point to the tall toy and ask your preschooler if it is short or tall. Explain the difference and ask him to put the toys in the right pile.

Mix the two piles together and repeat the sorting process into tall and short. Allow your preschooler to sort the items by himself. Check for accuracy and remove any items placed incorrectly. Explain the difference and ask the child to sort the items again.

Large and Small

Place a selection of fruit that your child enjoys in a bowl. Place the bowl on a table or other location where it is easy for your child to see what is in the bowl.

Talk with your preschooler about what is in the bowl and how one item is large and one is small. For example, hold up an apple and say, "The apple is large." Ask your preschooler to say "large." Hold up a grape and say, "The grape is small." Ask your preschooler to say "small." Hold the two items up and ask your child to point to the large item and then to the small item. Repeat the process with several items.

Instruct your preschooler to place the large fruit in one bowl and the small fruit in the other. Watch as he performs the task and help when necessary. Repeat the sorting process daily until he is able to sort the fruit into large and small without making a mistake. Give your child a snack after each sorting session. Ask your preschooler to pick out his favorite fruit and tell you whether it's large or small.

Items you will need

• Big and little shoes
• Tall and short toys
• Large and small fruits
• Large bowl
• Two small bowls

Tip

• Play the large-and-small or big-and-little game when you go to the grocery store. Ask your preschooler to point out large and small or big and little items while he's riding in the grocery cart (though you'll probably want to keep him from sorting them into piles).