Helping your child with arithmetic

Young boy doing math in class.

At a glance

  • Kids naturally use numbers through everyday activities and play situations.
  • When first learning to use numbers, kids need to have the objects with them to add.
  • Kids go through a process of needing to see and count each thing, one at a time.
  • Parents can help their kids learn to start counting from a larger number.
  • Ask your child to share out items fairly with others.

As parents, we can support our kids to discover quick and easy ways to use numbers in everyday life.

Kids naturally use numbers through everyday activities and play situations. Young children are very capable of sharing out things such as lollies so that each person has a fair share, or adding a friends' collection to their own and finding the total. As parents, we can help our kids to discover quick and easy ways of using numbers.

How children learn to use numbers

When first learning to use numbers, kids need to have the objects with them to add, subtract, multiply or share equally (divide). They go through a process of needing to see and count each thing, one at a time.

Parents can help their kids learn to start counting from a larger number and add or subtract a second number. You can also help your kids build mental images of a group or quantity so they don't always have to rely on seeing the objects. Helping kids to mentally ‘see' groups of things will also help them with understanding multiplication and division before they learn the times tables.

What parents can do at home to help with arithmetic

  • Play board games such as ‘snakes and ladders' with two dice and encourage your child to add the two numbers rolled. Show them how to count starting from the larger number.
  • Play card games such as ‘21 or bust'. In this game, two cards are dealt to each player, who adds the numbers together. Each player may ask for more cards from the ‘kitty', with the aim of being the person with the highest score that does not go over 21.
  • Share fruit such as mandarins with your child and add the number of pips you both have.
  • Ask your child to help you work out how many more items are needed when you are shopping. "I have six apples here, how many more will I get to make 10?"
  • Look at house numbers when going for a walk. Ask your child to guess what the next number will be.
  • Set the table for one person and ask your child to put out enough plates for everyone. Ask them how many more were needed.
  • Count the number of eggs in a carton, and again after some have been removed. Ask your child, "How many were taken away?"
  • Read a book that has a contents page to your child. Look for a story or chapter on a certain page and work out how many pages until the next story.
  • Use empty plastic bottles and a ball to make a game of skittles. Encourage your child to tell you how many were knocked down and how many are still standing after bowling. Keep a score of how many are knocked down to see who the winner is.
  • Sing songs that include numbers. Ask your child to tell you the next number in the song before you sing the next verse.
  • Go for a drive and point out the signs that show the distance to the next town. In the country, the numbers on the kilometre signs go down by five. Ask your child to work out what number will be on the next sign.
  • Have your child help share out food to the family. "How many slices will I need to cut the pizza into so that everyone has two slices?"
  • Ask your child to share out items fairly with others.
  • Count the number of things in a collection such as shells in a bag or a large jar of buttons. Ask your child if there is a quick and easy way of counting, say counting by fives.
  • Decorate cupcakes with sultanas or smarties. Place the same number of sultanas or smarties on each cake and ask your child to find out how many you will need altogether.
  • Count the number of ice cubes in a tray. If your child counts by ones suggest counting by the number in each row of the tray. (This will usually be counting by twos.)

Helping your child with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in your language


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