Children should be familiar with numbers when they start kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean you have to make them do bookwork or make math a high-pressure activity at the preschool level. By incorporating numbers and counting in your child’s everyday life, you can give your preschooler a great head start in school.

It’s never too early to start teaching your child simple math concepts. As someone who learned to count by counting the buttons on my great-grandmother’s shirt as she rocked me as a toddler, I know that casually teaching math to preschoolers through everyday activities is a great approach.

Start out by just counting – counting anything. At the grocery store, count the number of oranges you are buying, at home count the crackers you give your child, etc. This is a great no-pressure way to get your child familiar with numbers and counting. For preschoolers, ask them, “How many fish sticks do you want?” and let them answer. (If the answer is 100, you’ll probably have to suggest a lower number!) As your child is eating, ask, “How many fish sticks do you have left?” Then say, for instance, “Oh. I gave you four and you have two left, so you must have eaten two fish sticks.” This is a great way to teach your preschooler math without them even knowing they are participating in a math activity.

Another good preschool math activity is playing store. You can approach this activity one of two ways based on your preschooler’s skill level. Grab objects from around your house (we like to use fruit), and pretend to buy things from your child. Reverse roles as desired for this activity. To teach your preschooler basic counting skills with this math activity, just cut shapes out of paper and say, for example, “This orange costs three squares.” This is a good way to teach shapes and counting. For older preschoolers, you can also use real money for this activity to begin teaching your child about money.

You can come up with plenty of your own math activities to work numbers and counting into your preschooler’s day. Make up your own games, such as letting your child guess how many steps it will take for him to get from point A to point B. Then count the steps he takes and see if he got it right.

Board games are another good way to spend quality time with your preschooler while reinforcing math concepts. Any board game that requires your child to count moves, etc. can be a useful as a math activity. You can also make up your own game. For example, cut out shapes (let’s say triangles) and play a trivia game. This is a great way to combine math and the alphabet into one activity that your preschooler will enjoy. Show your preschooler a letter and ask what letter it is, or what sound it makes, and have your child ask you questions as well. When one player gets a question wrong (get some wrong!), they have to give the other player a certain number of triangles. Whoever ends up with the most triangles wins the game, and your preschooler wins by learning about counting, the alphabet, and shapes in this activity.

It really doesn’t take much time or effort to incorporate math activities into your preschooler’s day. By regularly exposing your preschooler to numbers, counting, and math concepts in everyday life, you will be surprised by how much they know about math when it’s time for kindergarten.