Teaching Math – When Should You Start?

Is there a “right age” to start teaching children math?

Math as a Basic Citizenship Skill

Math is one of the core skills that the education system is geared towards teaching children. This is because math is needed to be a contributing citizen. People need math in order to participate in the economy – to calculate the change you should get at the store, things like that. In addition to calculating change, math is important because it is directly related to the natural world. That is, no matter in which language you do the calculations, and what items you are counting (whether coins or cows) 1 plus 1 will always equal 2. When we teach children math we teach them something about the real world around them.

Math as an Innate Skill

There is a whole world of research done to understand how we learn math, at what age can we do certain things, and what helps or hinders mathematical understanding. Math is considered to be one of the basic innate skills. Innate skills can be identified by several criteria: a) very young infants can do them (so you can assume that the environment has a smaller effect than in adults); b) everyone can do them (from tribes in remote areas which do not have written language to modern society as we know it, all languages and all colours of people); and c) there’s no need to teach them (children will be naturally curious about them and try to master them on their own). Examples of these basic skills are walking, talking, and – related to our discussion – simple arithmetic.

Example: Counting to Four

Very young infant can do something that is called subitizing – “knowing” the number of items in a small array (up to 4 items) without counting. You have probably experienced it yourself – you don’t have to count three, but as soon as you get to six or seven you would need to count. You probably do it a lot faster (and hopefully more accurately) than a 3-year-old, but even 6-months-old are able to “count” to 4.

When to Start Math With Your Child?

So, when can you start solving math problems with your children? As soon as possible. Try tonight. It doesn’t have to be complicated math, and the best way to do it is having fun with it. I would like to introduce my two readers to “Bedtime Math” – a website created by Laura Bilodeau Overdeck to help other parents teach their children math. We started doing math problems with our Son (who will be 3 in October) a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a huge hit. He loves the problems we make up for him. I use the daily email for ideas, but our young problem-solver picks the theme most days. The popular themes include: fruit (if we bought 3 strawberries and 2 bananas, how many fruit do we have?); the beach (if we brought 3 sandwiches to the beach and ate 2, how many do we have left?); and dinosaurs (if a dinosaur has 5 bumps on his back and 3 on his tail, how many bumps does he have?). We keep it in the realm of up-to-10, as he still relies on his fingers and only has 10 of those. We do problems on the way to daycare as he sits in the stroller, during bath time, dinnertime, and yes, right before bed. Before I “met” Bedtime Math I thought he was too young for math problems, but I stand corrected. So have at it! And do tell me how it goes! 🙂


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