Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Are you wondering how you can introduce a child to addition or how you can help your child with addition at home? In this post I’m going to show you how to teach addition to young kids for the first time by covering the specific objectives of teaching addition, the number skills kids need before they learn to add and how to teach addition with hands-on activities.
Kindergarten and preschool kids first learn to add by counting the total of two groups of objects. Kids may begin to do this, without even knowing that they are adding, during play or day-to-day conversations at home especially if you ask the right questions such as “How many do we have altogether?”. Hands-on interactive games and activities are the best way to teach addition to kids at home whereas addition worksheets or memorization will not be as helpful for young kids learning to add.
In this article, I’ll be referring to kids by their age in years rather than their grade or educational stage. If you’re interested in the equivalent grades and stages across curriculums internationally you can check our helpful table here.
How to Teach Addition to Kids
When Can Kids Learn Addition?
You can teach addition to kids at home when they have enough basic number skills to be able to understand adding, which is usually by around age 3-6 years old. Remember that all children develop at different rates and so there isn’t a ‘right time’ that works for all kids.
What age should a child learn addition?
Kids are learning counting principles and developing number sense from birth but most of the time they are ready to actually start doing simple addition roughly around age four. This is in no way the same for all children as it always depends on the individual child and what sort of understanding they already have of numbers.
Instead of judging whether kids are ready to start learning to add by their age, parents would be much better off observing how their child works and plays with numbers naturally and whether they have the required understanding to begin learning addition.
The last thing you want is to push kids to add too early on when they aren’t ready to grasp the concept because this will be discouraging and unpleasant for everyone involved and will probably be more confusing than helpful for kids. Sooner isn't always better!
Can 4-year-olds add numbers?
The kids in my class are aged four to five years old and their addition abilities range from some who aren’t really adding at all yet, all the way to kids who are adding numbers to twenty with confidence and even using different methods to check their answers.
This is totally normal, completely to be expected, and is just because all children develop differently and not because any of them are ‘behind’ or ‘ahead’ - all of them will eventually learn to add.
Skills needed for addition
So, if you want to know whether your child is ready to learn how to add, you’ll need to watch out for some specific signs. These signs are most valuable and reliable if you spot them while kids are engaged in play or in a natural, informal discussion rather than in any kind of test or quiz.
Because of this, you won’t be able to know within the hour whether your child is ready to add numbers. Instead, it might take a few days or weeks of careful but casual observation to give you a chance to notice some of the following traits of a child who is ready to learn to add.
Reciting numbers reliably to ten or beyond
Counting up to ten objects more or less accurately
Showing an interest in numbers in general
Matching numeral and quantity
Representing a given quantity with objects, fingers & marks
Separating objects into two groups
Counting how many objects are in a group
Sorting objects into groups using different criteria (Size, type, colour etc.)
Counting a given number of objects out from an existing group
Counting the total of two groups
If your child has not been introduced to addition yet and you feel as if time is running out - don’t worry. There is no harm in introducing them to adding a little later - in fact, kids will have had more chance to fully develop their number sense which will benefit their maths in the long run and you might even see them begin to add naturally anyway.
How do you Introduce a Child to Addition?
Kids can be taught how to add in different ways including:
Using movable objects
Using their fingers
Using marks they make
Using a number line
The first three of these are similar to one another - kids make two groups which represent the two numbers that they want to add and then they come up with the total of the two groups by counting them all together. (Once this is mastered kids can then begin to learn to find the total using their number bond knowledge or by counting on instead of counting each object.)