Two simple ways a distracting little one can become a great helper for an older sibling’s math practice

Two simple ways a distracting little one can become a great helper for an older sibling’s math practice

“Mommy, can you get me a cup of water?”

“Mommy, will you play animals with me?”

“Mommy, will you read me this book?”

I would love to say yes to these sweet requests from my three year old for my attention, but there are some points during our day when I just can’t. Math is one of those times.

Most of the day our homeschool activities include all my kids. That’s one of the joys of homeschool, right? We get to learn and discuss and explore things together and follow wherever our curious, creative minds lead us and everyone gets something out of it.

But. There are sometimes when I have to give one kid my attention. For us, that time is during math lessons.

The best, most awesome thing that sometimes happens (when I’ve had enough sleep or enough coffee or both) is when I can tweeze a suitable job or task out of an activity I’m already doing with my older kid.

I’ve got two two strategies that you can scale based on your older child’s math level and your younger child’s math sense. I use two questions to invite my little one – two questions she LOVES to hear: Will you play with us? and, Will you help us?

I modified games played in whole class settings outlined in EngageNY (the math curriculum we follow) to create these ideas!

Will you play with us?

This strategy works for any type of rote memorization such as counting up or down OR counting from 8 to 12 (crossing the 10) or 98 to 103 OR skip counting (OR even the alphabet OR spelling words if you want to take this into other areas!). While your big kid is strengthening that fluency skill, your little one gets to practice fine motor skills, taking turns, math language.

Materials needed:

  • 20-25 manipulatives.  I like to use dried white beans that I’ve painted red on one side, but any manipulative will do (pennies, Cheerios, M&Ms, linking cubes, etc.).

How to play

  1. Create a circle of 20-25 manipulatives. If you’re using the two-colored beans or coins, start with them all facing the same side up.
  2. Start with a finger on one bean, touch the next bean going clockwise with the skill you are practicing (for this example, we’re working on counting from 8-12, so the first bean would be 8, the next 9, the next 10, etc.)
  3. After you get to 12, instead of saying 13, the children say “Sparkle”! Then take that bean out of the circle (or flip it over if using two-colored beans or coins). Eat it if you’re using something like Cheerios or M&Ms.
  4. Start at 8 again on the next bean. Keep playing until all the beans are flipped or Cheerios are eaten.
  5. My kids like to guess which bean will be the last one standing. If it’s early in the game and their claimed bean is flipped, I’ll let them pick another one!

Will you help us?

This strategy can be used anytime your older child is practicing math skills for fluency such as writing numbers, finding pairs within a number, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. Your litte one gets to practice fine motor skills, taking turns, counting, 1-1 correspondence, numeral formation, etc.

Materials needed:

  • die
  • recording sheet and writing tool (I like to use a piece of paper in a plastic sheet protector and dry erase marker)

How to play:

  1. Go through an example with older child. If working with multiplication, for example, you might say that we’re going to work on math facts of “times 3”. So whatever take the number little one rolls and multiply it by three. You can ask the child to write the entire equation or create a sentence frame for them to fill out ( __ x 3 = __ ) or just write the answer, depending on what you want them to work on!
  2. Little one initiates the game by rolling the die
  3. Older child uses the number generated to complete her math challenge
  4. While older child is solving, little one counts the dots on the die, finds the number on a page, practices writing the number with his finger with you.
  5. Once older child is ready, little one rolls the die again.
In this picture, my older one writes the number generated and then finds its magic pair to make 10.

Other number generator options: little one can pick a domino, or a playing card (2-9), or offer a 10 linking cube stick and ask them to break it.

Moral of the story

Any time your preschooler can pick up cards, flip beans, roll dice, break or connect linking cubes, invite them! You can use language like “Will you come help us?” or “Will you come play with us?” They love to have a job and even if they have no idea what the numeral or letter is, they are happy to be involved and help with the lesson.

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