How to Teach Math to Elementary Students

Being able to picture and conceptualize numbers is the groundwork for everything taught in math throughout school. When I see students in 5th and 6th Grade who are still counting with their fingers, I know it is because they never truly grasped this concept from Kindergarten to 2nd Grade. Let’s dive into how I teach math to Elementary students.


Getting a sense of numbers

Math is a universal language. Much like the way we learn English, we have to think of math as a tool to convey information. In English, we learn what each of the letters is and the sounds they make, then blend them together to make a sentence. 

Mathematics works in the same way. We have to make the connection between the symbol and the object. We identify that the number 1 means one of something, say, one apple. The number 2 means two apples, And so on. This is our ABCs. Then we learn how to count from 1 to 10. 

Remember how I said that math is used to convey information much like a sentence? Let’s look at the problem: 1 + 1 = 2      To a Kindergartener, this looks like a foreign language. But we can break it down into its parts using an example. I have 1 pencil and you have 1 pencil. Put them together (plus sign +). How many pencils do we have in total (equal sign =)? Now we can see the actual problem right in front of us. All we have to do is count the total: 2. 

Make the connection early

This is why it is important to use objects when teaching math at such a young age. Parents can even do this at home! Counting out loud the number of carrots on the plate, the number of steps it takes to walk to the bathroom, and how many shoes are on their feet. You get the point. It’s important to show that everything in math tells a story and has a meaning. Use real life to teach math.

To most adults that seems simple enough. However, some parents may be scratching their heads as to why they keep writing 1 or 3 for the answer. It takes time and practice before young students can make that connection from mind to paper. After a while, they won’t need the images anymore to conceptualize what the letters and symbols mean in our minds. I teach kids to see the story before looking at the number.

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