Choosing and Modifying Math Activities to Meet Your Child’s Skill Level (VIDEO)

By Linda M. Platas

Activities such as card games, shape puzzles, and building with Legos offer great opportunities to practice early math. But, if the activities are too easy or too difficult, children quickly get bored or frustrated. How do you make these activities easier or more challenging to match your child’s skill level?

In many ways, adapting math activities to best fit your child’s development is very similar to how you make adjustments when helping your child learn other key areas of development.

If you think of the process as steps, it looks like this:

  • Pay attention to your child’s reactions.
  • If the activity seems too difficult: Break it down into separate parts, model what it looks like, use gestures, and/or try rephrasing the question or the directions in a different way.
  • If the activity seems too easy: Increase the complexity and/or include other related concepts.

Pay Attention to Children’s Reactions

Your child’s facial expressions and comments can tell you a lot about the activity’s level of challenge for your child. Is your child happily engaged in the activity? If so, you’ve probably presented it at the right level. Is your child frustrated? The activity might be too challenging for their current level. Does your child appear bored or uninterested? The activity could be too easy and not challenging enough to retain their interest.

What if the Activity Is Too Difficult?

Consider demonstrating or breaking down the activity into shorter activities. Change your interactions to include more gestures (e.g., rotating your hand when you talk about rotating the puzzle piece) and easier-to-understand language. Help your child connect the new concepts to other concepts that they already know: “You know that triangles have three sides, right? Well, this fancy shape has five sides. It’s called a pentagon!”

What if the Activity Is Too Easy?

Children’s brains like to be engaged and learning. When an activity is too easy, children can become distracted, lose interest, or become bored. Consider increasing the complexity by offering larger set sizes or numbers (e.g., in a card game that includes numbers up to 10, increase to 15 or 20).

Another idea is to include other mathematical concepts and terminology. For instance, while playing with shape blocks, ask how many angles and sides the proposed shape has (Answer: They are the same! Triangles have three sides and three angles, rectangles have four sides and four angles, and pentagons have five sides and five angles.).

Learn How Other Families Adapt Math Activities

To inspire and support families to engage in math learning together, the nonprofit Tandem, Partners in Early Learning collaborated with DREME to produce a collection of video resources that promote family math. The videos are short, free, and feature real families. Designed for families and professionals who work closely with families, the videos are suitable for watching and sharing at home, community workshops, family playgroups, and parent-practitioner meetings.

The Choosing and Modifying Family Math Activities video shares ways to assess your child’s math skills and modify games to meet their skill level when playing counting games, solving puzzles, building, recognizing shapes, and more.

Following your child’s interests goes a long way in supporting their mathematical development. Find out what kind of mathematical activities they are interested in and follow their lead!

Linda M. Platas is the chair of the Child and Adolescent Development Department at San Francisco State University. She is a member of the DREME Family Math and Teacher Educator projects.

Originally published on the DREME website:




A network of scholars in early math education, conducting research & developing materials to promote young children’s math learning.

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DREME Network

DREME Network

A network of scholars in early math education, conducting research & developing materials to promote young children’s math learning.

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