A Strong Math Foundation: Ages 3-5

IMG_2868Summer is here! Maybe your preschooler is on his/her way to kindergarten in August. Or perhaps your have a rising first grader who could use a review. Here’s something you can do with your kiddos to help them be prepared for the math they will do.

Before children can do basic addition and subtraction, they need to conceptually understand what makes a group. This basic mathematical skill is called sorting. But it’s often overlooked as we eagerly jump right into counting… and then adding and subtracting. Not fully understanding a concept can create problems when mathematical concepts become more complicated. You may have experienced this yourself- you learned facts and were able to memorize them, so you did well in math…until middle school.

So while you are waiting for your child to go to pre-school, kindergarten, or even first grade, here is a fun activity you can do at home. There are no workbooks or flashcards involved. YAY! Just fun and tasty…and nearly free. That’s always good.

IMG_2856You will need some things to sort. You can use: fruit loops, gummy bears, jelly beans. ANYTHING.IMG_2854

COLOR is good for beginning sorters.

I spray painted medal baby food jar lids to sort.

I spray painted medal baby food jar lids to sort.

IMG_2859You may want to have a container to sort your colors into like muffin tins. Say to your child, “Put these fruit loops into groups that are the same.” After they have sorted them by color, say, “You made five different groups.”

Sorting by Color With Gummy Bears

Sorting by Color With Gummy Bears

You can even show this by making circles around the groups. Once children are able to easily sort by color, you can sort by something a little more difficult: shape-circles, squares, and triangles.IMG_2853

The whole time you are sorting you emphasize GROUP.

ADDITION is putting groups together. This group plus this group makes this group.


A group of 5 and a group of 4 put together makes 9.

IMG_2863SUBTRACTION is separating groups. “I have 5 gummy bears. I share 1 with you. Now I have 4.” 

Keep skills real…concrete…something they can touch. Worksheets and flashcards require visualization which students at this age are usually not ready for. (The transition from concrete/real objects to abstract/no objects occurs some where between 5-7 so some children will be ready to add/subtract in “their head.”)

International Delight Coffee Cans Painted Black. Numbers Written with White-Out

International Delight Coffee Cans Painted Black. Numbers Written with White-Out

Counting will be a natural outcome when your child makes a group. “One, two, three, four, five. There are FIVE in this group.” The next gradual step is to match the group with the symbol on the can. I made this activity for FREE. I spray painted my INTERNATIONAL DELIGHT coffee cans with black spray paint. Then I painted the symbol/number with WHITE OUT. Sorting, counting, matching the symbol to the group is the natural process.

  Have fun this summer!


Debbie taught math foundations and early literacy for children ages birth-eight for the past thirty-five years. 

Debbie is a published author, national speaker and workshop presenter, and a partner with the Polished Conference Ministries L.L.C. She facilitates an online Bible study page on Facebook, teaches Bible study in her church, and blogs at Shining Together! Debbie has written Shine! Radiating the Love of God, a Bible study designed exclusively for young women ages 13-18. Additionally, she has articles in the Divine Moments series, and is a monthly contributor to Refined Magazine. All books are available at grace-publishing.com. She would love to speak at your next women’s event, teen event, or at the college where she brings an inspirational message to teachers in training called, “A Christian Perspective for an Inspirational Classroom.” Debbie is married and has three adult children. She travels from Asheville, NC. Visit her website at www.debbiepresnell.com, email her at: debpres@yahoo.com, or visit her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShineEveryDayNC.



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4 Responses to A Strong Math Foundation: Ages 3-5

  1. Gerda says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Just loved this blog (and you too!) and immediately sent it to my niece who has two little ones.
    Love and blessings,

  2. Awh, that’s wonderful. I hope she fines the information very helpful. 🙂

  3. Gloria Spears says:

    Debbie, I love these great ideas to help the little ones get started in their Math so learning can be fun too! 💕💓

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