Fun ways to teach math literacy to kids with special needs

From breakfast to bedtime, here are some ideas for a full day of math fun


Ellen Metrick

Parents probably have heard about the importance of developing early reading literacy skills in young children. What parents may not know is that math
literacy also needs to be developed early, and toys and play are a great way to do it.

Sprinkle lessons in magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes, weights, volume, patterns and relationships into a day of fun. Children of all abilities need to learn these concepts in order to develop life skills. So if you're wondering what to do when it is rainy and gray, fill the day with math play.

Breakfast of shapes

Little learners can have lessons in geometric shapes first thing in the morning with squares of toast or circles of pancakes. Talking about shapes teaches matching, recognition and language. When a pancake is cut across it becomes a half; cut again and it becomes a quarter and fractions come alive with each bite-size portion. Kids can get creative and cut their toast in triangles or even tangrams.

Puzzle play

Susan Levine, a leading authority on mathematic development in young children, believes puzzles help advance math skills using spatial skills, rotating and translating shapes and recognizing patterns. One source for puzzles that are appropriate for young children is Melissa & Doug, with products like the Hand Counting Peg Puzzle and Jumbo Chunky Numbers Puzzle. Many of the puzzle pieces also have easy-to-grasp knobs, making it simple for children with limited fine motor skills to be successful.

Lunch with weight and volume

Kids often are fascinated with scales, and HABA provides just the tool with its Balance Scale. Have children weigh their sandwiches before and after taking a bite or guess if six grapes are heavier than three orange wedges. Kids also can drink their milk or juice from a measuring cup and then gauge how much one gulp lowers the volume. They even can use measuring spoons as utensils to serve the lesson.

Add a dimension

Afternoon is a good time to switch to 3D. For inspiring young builders, Ravensburger adds a dimension with its 3D puzzles ranging from subjects like the Eiffel Tower to the Pyramids - allowing kids to take a tour of spatial relationships. For a fun 3D brain teaser game, try Tridio Twist by Fat Brain Toy Company.  
Visual learners will love Educational Insights' Numbers Balance Scale, which makes numbers colorful and fun and teaches how they relate and work together. KeeKee the Rocking Monkey by BlueOrange Games is another game where children run their own experiments with weight and balancing using a steady hand and producing lots of laughs. Penguins on Ice by Educational Insights also helps reinforce math, patterning and sums.

Dinner is about counting

Researchers have shown that counting real things is more memorable to children than just reciting number sequences and dinner is a clever place to start. Count the carrots on the plate, then the pieces you cut the chicken into. How many times do you chew it, how many bites out of a piece of bread? Add them up and do a tally.

Take a number to bed

You can count on cuddles with the plush characters from NumbersAlive!, developed by a mathematician with a mission. The goal is for children to make friends with numbers, build a relationship and begin to understand their numeric personalities. Many kids learn to fear math, especially girls, and these characters are a way to make friends early. Children are then encouraged to point out their favorite numbers throughout their day and share stories about them as they begin to realize that numbers really count in their life.


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