Early Math with Blocks: How to Teach Your Preschooler Important Skills at Home

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Did you know you’re probably teaching your preschooler about math at home every day without even realizing it? Think about mealtime, for example. You’re exposing them to measurement when you add different amounts of ingredients to your sauce pan. Or perhaps you’re counting the number of plates, utensils, and cups you’ll need to set the table. Regardless of the scenario these are great natural opportunities to teach your child important mathematical concepts. But, I’m going to share a fun way to teach multiple math skills at home more deliberately. Believe it or not, your preschooler can learn loads of early math with their blocks during playtime.

First, Let’s Chat About Math in Preschool…

High-quality preschool programs enhance the academic and social-emotional skills of young children by providing opportunities to learn through play and exploration. These early skills are important as children grow and they set the foundation for future learning.

But, what constitutes early math? Depending on where you live your home state determines the learning standards for its students. These standards provide teachers with a framework of the skills and concepts children should learn and when this learning should occur, i.e. grade level. For example, the New Jersey Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards list four overarching goals for math in PreK, which are:

  • 4.1: Children begin to demonstrate an understanding of numbers and counting. 
  • 4.2: Children demonstrate an initial understanding of numerical operations. 
  • 4.3: Children begin to conceptualize measurable attributes of objects and how to measure them. 
  • 4.4: Children develop spatial and geometric sense. 

Standards are then broken down further with specific learning outcomes. Let’s consider numbers and counting. A few possible learning outcomes under this category would be “children will count to 20 with minimal prompting,” and “children will name 1 digit numbers up to 10 with minimal prompting,” etc.

Regardless of where you live most preschool programs will follow similar standards. Generally, they will emphasize number sense (such as counting and quantities,) numerical operations (like addition and subtraction,) measurement (i.e. comparison and measurable attributes) and finally, geometry (more specifically shapes and spatial sense.)

With that said, it’s important for teachers and caregivers to understand the state standards, and their respective outcomes, so they can adequately provide hands-on and age-appropriate learning experiences.

Well Then How Do You Teach Math With Blocks at Home?

There have been studies that suggest babies are born with a certain amount of innate mathematical knowledge– which let’s face it, is pretty amazing. But even with that, it’s still necessary to cultivate and enhance this natural awareness through purposeful play. In fact, I find a classic toy–that can be found in many homes and early childhood classrooms alike– is perfect for teaching math.

What Type of Math Can a Child Learn With Blocks?

Blocks are a fantastic way to let children explore mathematical concepts through play. They are excellent tools for teaching multiple skills like counting, measuring, comparing, sorting, and patterning, to name a few. Before I give you my suggestions, I should note that there is no need to practice all of these skills at once. These recommendations are meant a be a guide in teaching you to be more intentional in your math play with blocks.

Here are some examples of the ways I teach math at home and in my classroom. I’ve included images to demonstrate the different uses.

Numbers (Counting and Quantities)

  • Children count the number of blocks they use to build a structure. 
    • Ask your child to count the blocks as they build or have them count the total after it’s completed. Ex: “How many blocks can you count? This tower has 5 blocks.”
  • Children match sets using quantities.
    • You can write a numeral or provide a number flash card. Then ask your child to match the corresponding amount of blocks to the number you’ve given them. 
  • Children compare quantities (the amount of blocks) in different groups using words like more, less, and same.
    • For example, “This group has 4 blocks. This one has 5. Which has more? Which has less?” 

Numerical Operations (Addition and Subtraction)

  • Children practice addition when they put pieces together.
    • Have your child count the number of blocks with you as they are added to the structure. Ex. “We had 2 and we added 1 more. Now we have 3 altogether.”
  • Children practice subtraction when they take structures apart. 
    • Have your child count the number of blocks as they are taken away or apart. Ex. “We had 4 blocks and we took 1 away. Now we are left with 3.”

Measurement and Measurable Attributes (Sort, Pattern, Compare, Measure)

  • Children sort blocks by size and color. 
    • Use colored plates, bowls, or sheets of construction paper and have your child sort the blocks by the corresponding color. Or if you’re using various sizes of blocks, your child can sort them into different sized containers, i.e. small, medium, and big.
  • .Children create basic patterns.
    • Have your child create simple patterns with their blocks such as AABB, ABAB, ABC, etc.
  • Describe different block structures using comparison words.
    • Talk with your child about the block structures’ measurable attributes: “This block tower is tall and this one is short,” or “this block is long, but the other one is longer.”
  • Use blocks for standard and non-standard measurement.
    • Standard measurement= using a ruler or tape measure to measure individual blocks or structures themselves.
    • Non-standard measurement= using blocks to measure other toys or objects, i.e. “the teddy bear is 7 blocks tall.”

Spatial Sense (Shape ID, Shape Creation, Positional Words)

  • Create and name shapes by manipulating and configuring the blocks. 
    • Have your child build block structures to make various shapes like rectangles, squares, and triangles, etc.
  • Develop spatial sense by practicing positional words.
    • Put the blocks in various positions and have your child tell you where the blocks are, ie. over, under, in between, behind, etc. 

Math with Blocks is Not Only Fun, But it’s Educational Too

We now know the value of blocks because they encourage academic learning, creativity, and open-ended play. In addition, they provide endless opportunities for engagement. Therefore, I want to share a few of my favorite types of blocks (wooden, bristle, large/mega, and foam)–should you want to add them to your play rotation.

Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks and Shape Sorter
Bristle Blocks by Battat
Creative Lego DUPLO Brick Set 
Mega Bloks
Morvat Foam Blocks

Finally, if you want to learn more about how to use other items around your home to encourage meaningful play please read my post: Free Activities for Preschoolers at Home. In addition, if you want simple ways to encourage literacy learning at home, please download my Free Literacy Guide.

Now talk to me! What types of math activities do you like to do with your little one? Have you ever used blocks to teach math skills? Please share your comments or questions below.

Reference:

NJDOE. (2014). Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.nj.gov/education/ece/guide/standards.pdf.

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Math with Blocks: Image: Two young children playing with blocks

Ms. Sally

Comments 19

  1. I love these suggestions! It’s a good reminder that we can teach our kids new things using items that we already have. Thanks for sharing!

  2. As a preschool teacher myself for 20+ years, I can attest to the fact that these are spot-on ideas for helping preschoolers learn math skills! I love your entire blog. I’ll be visiting again!

    1. Thank you, Debbie! Your comment means so much to me especially because of your expertise! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. Welcome to the Tenderhearted Teacher Community.

  3. These are fabulous ideas for doing math with blocks! I’m a trained Montessori teacher and Math was my favorite area of the classroom because it’s just so cool. You can really turn anything into a math lesson. When my daughter was a toddler, she was really into playdough, so I made little play dough balls and we counted them together and did simple addition with them.

  4. Love how you explain what each of these activities is teaching in terms of math concepts! It’s so easy to think that kids aren’t learning because they’re not “doing school” but nothing could be further from the truth. Great ideas!

  5. Thank you for these great tips! My little one still has time before she’s a pre-schooler but I feel that this will prepare me for this stage.

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