Since many young children are fascinated by animals, it stands to reason that using animals as a theme can draw these little ones into the field of mathematics. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a quality preschool math program will "enhance children's natural interest in mathematics" and "integrate mathematics with other activities and other activities with mathematics." Math activities using animals can not only build math skills, but could also increase vocabulary, build fine motor skills and improve reasoning.
Children can count animals in a variety of ways. You might hand out a worksheet with five bears that the children can count and color. You might have toy animals that children can count, either together -- 20 animals -- or separately -- 10 rabbits and 10 lions. As you introduce the concept of written numbers, you can give children small animals to count and place under the corresponding numbers -- one tiger under the "1" and two elephants under the "2."
According to the Scholastic website, creating order is an important skill for preschoolers to learn. Using small toy animals or even pictures of animals, children can sort them into various groups. For example, they might sort animals by type, by which animals are pets or zoo animals or which animals eat meat and which don't. They might also enjoy lining the animals up by size. It's sometimes interesting to simply ask the child to "sort the animals" to see which criteria she ends up using.
A child who likes animals might like to learn about patterning with them. For example, you could set up a pattern of animals -- two ducks and two dogs, repeating -- then ask the child which animal comes next. If you have beads with the animals painted on them, the children can string the beads in an animal pattern. Alternatively, use fur patterns rather than pictures of animals -- soft tiger stripes and scaly snake skin make for an exciting tactile experience.
Children can learn about basic shapes from animals made out of shapes. A bear might have a large circle head, with smaller circles for ears and a snout, and even smaller circles for the eyes and nose. A lion might have a rectangular body and legs with a circular face. Have children build their own animals from basic shapes during craft time. To make things easier for them, use pre-cut shapes.
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