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Games That Count!

Asking your child to divvy up the brownies so that everyone gets one isn't just a smart way to avoid a "his piece is bigger" meltdown. It's also a low-pressure math booster that manages to make fractions fun (no small feat). Want to do more to prep him for confidence with numbers? Try these homegrown games. They'll get your child comparing, counting, measureing and problem solving  -- no flash cards required.

Preschoolers

From ages 3 to 5, kids get better at counting and recognizing numerals, skills that go hand in hand with learning to read. Of course, your child will still do best when numbers are represented physically.

Muffin Math

Write the numbers 1 through 12 on the bottom of paper muffin liners and place the liners in a muffin tin. Then help your child count out the corresponding number of bite-size snacks into each cup. (You'll need 78 for the project.)

What your child learns: By dropping treats into the muffin tin while you count aloud, he'll clue into the fact that the number 10 is connected to ten Goldfish crackers. Feeling (and tasting) a physical object will make an abstract concept like numerals easier to handle.

How Much?

Cover the kitchen table with a towel, and then fill a juice glass halfway with colored water. Let your child carefully pour the liquid from the glass into a fatter, squatter jar, pointing out that even though the water halfway fills the glass, it barely covers the bottom of the jar. Try pouring it into other containers (like a pie tin) and then pour it back into the juice glass, where it will magically return to the same level as before!

What your child learns: Around age 5, most kids start to grasp the concept of conservation  -- that volume doesn't increase or decrease just because it looks different.

Off the Charts

Armed with a piece of paper and a pack of stickers, your preschooler can become the official family chartkeeper, responsible for tracking how many bananas your family eats each day or how many books you read together. At the end of the week she can turn her results into a bar graph or a pie chart that she can color.

What your child learns: Charts and graphs are ways of representing numerical information visually. And since she's probably already familiar with the way sticker charts measure things like toothbrushing or toy sharing, she'll love being the boss of a slightly wackier graph.

Grade-Schoolers

Once they hit kindergarten, grade-schoolers get a refresher course on counting, quickly move on to addition and subtraction, and meet the big boys of multiplication and division by third grade. Exciting, yes, but it can also be overwhelming. These games show how fun  -- and practical  -- math can be.

Mystery Number

Your child and his best friend are squabbling about who gets first dibs on the Ricochet transformer. Your solution: Pick a number between 1 and 20 and have the boys take turns trying to guess what you're thinking. The winner takes the toy  -- but only after you guide them to the answer by saying, "It's more than seven," or, "It can be reached by counting by threes." Later, let your kid have a chance to think of a number.

What your child learns: Hearing mathematical terms like less than, more than, odd, and even helps him understand the nature of numbers.

The Joy of Cooking

Next time you're on PTA bake-sale duty, put your child in charge of reading the recipe. While you assemble the ingredients, she can dig out the right measuring cups and spoons. As you bake, encourage her to figure out how many quarter cups make a whole cup, or how many teaspoons add up to a tablespoon.

What your child learns: Recipes teach a host of important measurement terms. Plus, she'll get to try her hand at fractions in a setting where it's easy to see how two halves make a whole.

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