Math Skills For Kindergarten

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

  • What are the math skills for kindergarten?

  • What are the best ways to teach kindergarten math?

  • My child is resisting sitting down to do math, what should I do?

  • My child picks up math easily,  should I move into 1st grade skills?

These are questions I often hear from homeschooling families. All very important questions! If you’ve asked these same questions or similar ones, then this is for you.

My goal is to provide some answers that will help you feel comfortable and confident in knowing the math skills for kindergarten, what the research says about early childhood math teaching and learning, and the best approaches to most effectively teach math to young children!

Most curriculum and schools follow grade-level standards that specify the particular math skills and concepts children in Kindergarten should master by the end of the year. 

What we are finding at Thoughtful Play is that many children who are being homeschooled have mastered quite a lot of the Kindergarten standards, so we created a Kindergarten-Plus homeschooling curriculum that includes all of the Kindergarten skills and concepts, along with most of 1st grade ones as well. 

So, I know you are wondering, what are the skills and concepts and how should I teach them? Here they are:


Numbers & Counting

  • Count by 1’s and by 10’s to 100

  • One-to-one correspondence - knowing that each item gets one count

  • Cardinality - knowing the last count is the total of the set

  • Count objects to answer “How many?”

  • Count-on from numbers other than 1

  • Subitizing- recognizing how many are in a small set of objects without counting

  • Write numbers 0 to 20

  • Represent numbers 0 to 20 with objects or visual models (e.g., tally marks)

  • Compose & decompose (i.e., build & break apart) numbers 0 to 20

Categorizing & Comparing

  • Compare objects based on measurable attributes (e.g. bigger, smaller; taller, shorter)

  • Put objects in two different categories, count how many in each group, and compare

  • Compare sets of objects by lining them up

  • Compare numbers using symbols (>, <, =) up to 10, knowing which number is greater based on the number sequence

Addition & Subtraction

  • Use objects and visual models to represent addition and subtraction

  • Solve addition and subtraction word problems

  • Find number pairs that make each number 0 to 10

  • Commit to memory number pairs up to a sum of 5 (i.e., 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+2=4, 1+3=4, 2+3=5, 1+4=5)

Measurement & Geometry

  • Describe the position of shapes (e.g., above, below, beside, in front of, behind, and next to).

  • Point out the measurable attributes of an object (e.g., length, weight, size) and generally have a sense what these mean

  • Identify shapes by name in everyday situations and that size and position does not change the name of a shape

  • Identify shapes as 2-dimensional (“flat”) or 3-dimensional (“pops out at you”)

  • Compare shapes by number of sides and vertices (“corners”)

  • Compare lengths of sides of shapes using descriptive words (i.e., longer, shorter, same size)

  • Build and draw shapes

  • Compose a different shape from bringing together two 2-dimensional shapes


The Research

Many people are looking for a “research-based” curriculum. This means that the authors writing it know the research and are designing their curriculum based on what research has found. This is important because there are some approaches to teaching math that lead to immediate gains in the short-term, but not long-term overall success in math.

Let’s face it, math is a subject that many people end up not liking, some completely avoid it when possible, and even develop a fear of it. Yet, no one wants this for their children. Looking to the research is key!

The mathematics education research says, young children learn math best when:

  • They use concrete objects/physical things they can pick up and move around 

  • They are given the opportunity to make sense of the “action” and “meaning” in word problems, rather than looking for keywords

  • They are allowed to come up with their own strategies for solving problems

  • They are given opportunities to spend time thinking and talking through their methods and reasoning

  • They feel comfortable and at ease, as opposed to feeling pressure to “perform” and “get it right”

  • They can make mistakes and it is okay, where these mistakes become something to learn from and grow from 

Other important information that comes from the research:

  • For many children, memorization and concept understanding of addition and subtraction takes time.

  • Some children can memorize number facts quickly but do not develop an understanding of the concept - they may have trouble in higher level math that requires thinking flexibly about numbers.

  • It is important to take time to build number sense, that is, how numbers relate to each other and work together. 

How should I teach math to my Kindergartner?

Sometimes research feels disconnected from practice. We don’t necessarily walk away knowing exactly what the lesson delivery should look like based on our knowledge of how children learn math. I am here to help translate and to be a bridge between the research and your teaching. 

If you are looking for the most effective approach, that is guaranteed to lessen and even do away with resistance, create meaningful understandings of math concepts, and instill a love of learning, then follow these recommendations for how to teach math:

  • Infuse math teaching in your child’s play - make it natural and let it flow. 

  • Use games and fun activities

  • Incorporate interdisciplinary activities that involve math skills and concepts - this helps children see how math is connected to other things in the world.

  • Teach and practice math concepts in everyday situations - dialing a phone, setting a timer, learning addresses, making lists, adding up money, counting library books, putting together pairs of things (socks, mittens), etc.

  • Ask questions and let your child come up with ideas before you “show” them how to do something

  • It is unnecessary to require them to “sit down” and “do math” - this actually takes the fun away and makes math feel less interesting and less exciting. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • Set up a pretend store, label the price of each item, add to find total cost, write receipts.

  • Create number riddles, hide them, search for the riddles and solve, record the answers. 

  • Become a librarian or construction manager and take inventory of the books or construction vehicles in your home. Add more on and lose some, as well.

  • Turn traditional games into math games that target specific skills, such as Speed Chutes and Ladders - add 5 to each spin, or Addition UNO - remove the specialty cards, split the deck, each flip two from your pile, add and compare, greater sum takes all. 

This is exactly what we have created in the Thoughtful Play homeschooling curriculum! We use these approaches to teach math skills for kindergarten that yield success!


My Child Excels at Math

Some parents have children who naturally pick up math concepts quite quickly and with ease. This is not my daughter, but it is my son. There’s 18 months between them and for certain skills they are at the same place. For some children it makes sense to extend the Kindergarten skills, otherwise they will not feel challenged and will come to see math as boring. 

If my child picks up math easily, should I move to 1st grade skills?

Our thinking is why hold children back if they are ready to extend their learning. Kindergarten and 1st grade have complementary skills, meaning they build on each other. Therefore, it is a natural flow to move to the 1st grade skills and concepts for math. This is the approach we take in our Kindergarten Plus curriculum.  

Here are some of the 1st grade math skills that are natural extensions from Kindergarten skills:


Numbers & Counting

  • Count by 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s to 120

  • Write, say, and represent numbers up to 120

 Addition & Subtraction

  • Commit to memory number pairs up to a sum of 10 

  • Solve addition and subtraction word problems that involve an unknown (e.g., 3 + ? = 8)

  • Solve addition problems involving more than two numbers

  • Solve double-digit addition problems

Categorizing & Comparing

  • Put objects in 3 different categories, count and compare

  • Compare two-digit numbers using symbols >, <, and =

  • Solve addition and subtraction problems that involve comparisons (e.g., “How many more…? How many fewer…?)

Measurement & Geometry

  • Measure the lengths of objects to the nearest whole unit and compare lengths

  • Create a new 2- or 3-dimensional shape from bringing together 2 or more 2- or 3-dimensional shapes 

Knowing what to teach and how to teach it can be daunting, particularly for a subject like mathematics.  There is a lot we now know about how children learn math and what this means for the most effective teaching approaches. My belief is that you too can implement high leverage practices for mathematics teaching in order to ensure the absolute best for your child and their academic success!

Hollie Young, Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, Concentration: Mathematics Education

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