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5 Simple Ways to Teach Your First-Grader Math

Abby Slutsky has a M.Ed., and has substitute taught and tutored for more than 12 years.

Help your child keep up or get ahead of their math lessons using this guide!

Help your child keep up or get ahead of their math lessons using this guide!

Parental Barriers: Teaching Your First-Grader Math

Many parents want their children to stay up-to-date on schoolwork during the summer. It is easy for children to forget about academics when the sun is shining and the outdoors beckons. Even when they are indoors, first-graders would rather watch television, play on their computers or enjoy video games instead of practicing math.

Unfortunately, it is not just your first-grader's disinterest in practicing math that makes it hard to get them ahead or at least keep them on target for the upcoming school year. In addition, parents struggle with the following issues:

  • Making time to teach
  • Identifying what their first-graders need to learn
  • Figuring out how to teach and reinforce it
  • Finding additional teaching resources
  • Remaining patient

1. Making the Time to Teach

Balancing work, caring for a family, and squeezing in academics for your child is not easy. After a full day of work, you may not be patient when your child is tired and not interested in practicing math. Try to pay attention to when your child seems most alert to learn. Since young children have short attention spans, plan on teaching your first-grader math in short 15-minute lessons when you and your child are alert and focused. If a lesson is troublesome, take a break and come back to it. Scheduling and structuring learning time properly goes a long way in preventing frustration for parents and children.

Try scheduling short sessions a few times a day. Keep notes, so you can decide what times your child seems most receptive to learning. Certain activities may spark better concentration. Careful record keeping will help you engage your child in learning.

2. Identifying What Your First-Grader Needs to Learn

Even though many teachers will deny teaching to the test, public schools usually center their curriculum around the state standards. Check out the math state standards for first-graders to see what your state requires.

First-grade math concepts broadly cover addition and subtraction up to 20, word problems, the relationships of whole numbers and place value, length unit measurements, and basic geometry concepts (such as shape recognition). You can click on each concept in the standards to get a specific understanding of what first-graders should master.

Fortunately, many parents have the knowledge to help their children at the elementary levels. Keep in mind that you do not need to teach your child a year’s worth of academics during the summer, so set realistic goals.

Viewing shapes regularly can help your child learn to identify them.

Viewing shapes regularly can help your child learn to identify them.

3. How to Teach and Reinforce Learning

In many instances, your child will be able to complete an educational activity with minimal or no assistance. However, if they are learning a new concept, you need to introduce it gradually. Here are the steps:

1. Model the activity by showing your child how to do it.

2. Perform the activity together. For example, use manipulatives or your child's fingers to help count.

3. Let your child do the activity with close supervision.

4. Choose a first-grade learning activity for independent practice.

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There are also some actions you can take to promote additional learning. Consider cutting out paper shapes and putting them on the refrigerator, on your child's bathroom mirror, or in their room. Write the name of the shapes on each cutout. Give your child a ruler, and invite them to measure one item a day of their choice. If you have a whiteboard, create a count by twos, fives, or tens list, and skip a few numbers for your child to fill in whenever they are in the mood. (First-graders may enjoy writing on a whiteboard.) The opportunities to reinforce learning are endless. Leaving educational activities for your first-grader to complete when the mood strikes will encourage them to engage when they are focused.


Card games can reinforce learning and make it fun.

Card games can reinforce learning and make it fun.

4. Teaching Tools and Activities

Many parents buy a workbook and assume they are going to get their child to sit down and happily do math problems. Sadly, those expectations are not realistic. Although teachers do utilize worksheets in class, many classroom activities involve games, stations, and hands-on learning which facilitates more interest than worksheets.

If your child is not interested, you are going to get frustrated teaching. Figure out ways to make learning fun. The right activity may engage your child beyond his normal attention span. (Most first-graders are attentive for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on their interest and the activity.)

Here are some ideas that will encourage learning:

Purchase or make a set of subtraction and addition flashcards. Playing war with them is an easy way to reinforce subtraction and addition. Start by playing for only 10 minutes a day twice a week. Your child may eventually want to play longer or even ask to play. (If your child has trouble in the beginning, let him count on his fingers or use manipulatives.)

Play games with a regular deck of cards. A free list and explanation of educational card games will make it easy for you to use a deck of cards to enhance your first-grader's learning. Keep in mind you can modify many of the games by targeting specific numbers based on your child's skill level. One popular game is a variation of "Go Fish" where you and your child try to fish for cards that create pairs that add up to ten or any other number that you select before the game starts.

Many classrooms use manipulatives to help children understand math concepts. An inexpensive set of snappable blocks can make it easy for your child to understand counting by twos, fives, and tens. Snap blocks and base ten blocks are very popular in the classroom. I prefer snappable blocks that are a little larger than base ten blocks because they are less likely to get lost, and younger children are less likely to swallow them. You can also use the multi-colored blocks to teach young children colors.

First-graders love playing with the computer, and there are a host of free educational games that can reinforce learning math. Mathplayground offers many adorable games that will teach children shapes, reinforce addition, provide subtraction practice, and teach other first-grade math skills. offers an array of lesson plans that can help you hone your first-grader's math skills. (Be sure to scroll down to the first-grade section.) Some of the lessons might take you a few minutes to prepare, but keep in mind that the recommended time for learning will be a lot less than estimated. The site is offering these lesson plans to teachers who may have 20 to 30 kids in a classroom. The one-on-one instruction you are giving your child is likely to move along at a faster pace.

5. Remaining Patient While Teaching

There are going to be times when a teaching session is not going to move smoothly. It can happen because your first-grader is involved in another activity, feels tired, or is having trouble with the concept. Sometimes it is best to take a break or move locations. For example, a child may not feel like doing math inside, but they may be willing to go outside and play a game involving counting or drawing numbers. Other times, it may be better to try the activity later in the day. Your judgment will make the difference between frustration and successful learning.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Abby Slutsky


Abby Slutsky (author) from America on July 26, 2020:

Thanks. You too. I appreciate you reading.

Danny from India on July 26, 2020:

Welcome, Abby. Have a great week ahead.

Abby Slutsky (author) from America on July 26, 2020:

Thanks for your kind comments. I appreciate you taking the time to read.

Danny from India on July 26, 2020:

Abby, you have presented this article very thoughtfully. The visual cues are very important for starters, and it reinforces the matter better than rote learning.

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