Authentic Math Talk

Ways to Support Math Development At Home

· Mathematics,Family Engagement,At-Home Learning

I recently re-read a research study called “Math At Home Adds Up To Achievement At School” published in the Journal of Science that looked at the impact of integrating math into young children’s bedtime routines. The study found that when parents integrated math conversations with their child into nighttime routines, even just once a week, it led to considerable improvement in the child's math skills.

Just as significantly, children still showed this impressive progress even if the child's parent expressed anxious feelings about their own math capabilities or ability to support their child with math concepts, which contradicted previous research. Ultimately, this study shows that when families are given structured suggestions for how to talk about math concepts with their child, all parents can help integrate math learning at home.

Too often, math is considered to be something that is simply “taught” at school, but this study is part of a new trend in research shedding light on the importance of the supporting math development at home. And it shows the role that schools and educators can play in ensuring parents, even those who do not feel as comfortable with math, are equipped with ways to support their child effectively.

How can teachers help parents support their child’s math development at home?

Encouraging parents to engage in authentic math conversations or activities with their children can help ensure children are set up to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond. Specifically:

1. Sharing Learning from School

The best way to support learning at home is to provide families with information about what their child does during the day. A photo of their child engaging in an activity, a lesson plan, or a sample of their child’s work can help parents see exactly what their child is working on. With math specifically, this can help families understand the ways in which mathematical thinking is integrated into young children's daily activities. 

2. Suggest Opportunities for Authentic At-Home Conversations

Integrating mathematical concepts into daily activities can help to make math talk a part of a child’s everyday life. Here are a few ideas to share with families:


Shopping it a great time to ask children to practice counting objects. For example, a parent or caregiver can ask a child to count the number of oranges they put in the basket, or to count the number of red boxes they see on a shelf. Once home from the store, families can ask a child to help sort the items based on different attributes (shape, color, size, etc.) as they are putting items away.


Cooking is a great time to practice counting ingredients. For example, a parent or caregiver can ask a child to count as they crack 3 eggs or fill up 2 cups with water. This is a great opportunity to build math vocabulary into everyday life by using words like “more”, “less”, and “equal”.


In addition to counting quantities for a recipe, baking is a great time to use different shape cookie cutters. Parents or caregivers can ask their child what shape cookies they are making and to describe the characteristics of that shape or name the colors of sprinkles they use to decorate cookies.


Cleaning is a great time to practice sorting and patterns. For example, when folding laundry, a parent or caregiver can ask a child to sort items of clothing and then replicate or create a pattern with different colored socks before folding them. 


Driving is another great time to practice counting and shape identification. For example, a parent or caregiver can ask a child to count the number of green cars they see or look for triangle-shaped signs.


During warmer months, gardening is a great way to integrate math and science development. Send home seeds, or encourage families to purchase a small vegetable plant. Each week, children can measure their plant to watch it grow. This will allow children to begin to use comparative measurement vocabulary words like “longer”, “taller”, and “same”.

About the Author

Anna Marrs is a former early literacy curriculum developer and a former certified teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the School Partnerships team at Kaymbu.

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