Observe the child while playing restaurant or during an actual snack. If playing restaurant, make play dough cookies or use plastic poker chips.
Take turns being the waitress or server. The child usually likes to be the cook and server, but both roles can be played. When ordering, ask the child for two cookies. When served, say, “I changed my mind, I want three cookies instead of two.” If the child gives you one cookie, you know they understand the concept. If the child gives you three cookies, say, “Oh, you already gave me two, I just want three altogether.” Alternatively, order four, then say, “I’m sorry. I only want three.” Hold up your plate for the child to remove one. If the child is ordering offer the wrong amount and tell the child there are more in the oven. “How many more do I have to cook so you can have three?”
During these activities, using up to five objects that the child can see and manipulate, the child should be able to determine what needs to be added or removed to end up with three, two, or one.
Encourage parents to play house or restaurant and use numbers when “cooking” or “ordering.” Explain how parents can use small numbers and dramatic play or daily routines to help the child learn to solve simple math problems. By using numbers in real or dramatic play situations children are learning to manipulate numbers in a meaningful way. This lays the foundation for being able to solve story problems later in school.
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2015
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