Ask Dr. Lynda

Have a question for Dr. Lynda? Email her now! .

Dr. Lynda Colgan, PhD
The Prime Radicals Math Consultant
Associate Professor for the Faculty of Education at Queen's University, in Kingston Ontario

What is the most important way that I can support my child’s math learning at home?

Parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers; therefore, it is very important for adults in the home to have a positive attitude about math and show confidence in children’s ability to do challenging math. Too often, we undermine our children's interest in math by using statements such as “math is hard,” “You’ll never have to use that stuff in real life” or “I didn't like math either.” Research shows that when parents use words and actions to show that they believe that mathematics is important and can be fun; let their children know that they believe in their ability to do math; and encourage perseverance, children are more likely to succeed. 

What is the best way to teach my child to count?

Whenever possible, all mathematical concepts should be developed through natural interactions with your children’s surroundings…so count everything: toys, eating utensils (as they are removed from the dish washer) and petals on flowers. Children should experience counting activities allowing them to count by different groupings — by two’s, five’s, ten’s…. so look for things that come in pairs (such as socks and eyes). Find things that come in fives (like the major markings on a clock, i.e., 5, 10, 15, 20 25, 30 and so on). Surround your child with a variety of counting experiences, beginning with counting books (e.g., The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek 1-2-3 Numbers Book by Robert Crowther), songs (e.g., Ten in the Bed), nursery and counting rhymes (e.g., One Two, Buckle my Shoe), and finger games (e.g., Morra).  Many songs and rhymes provide rich opportunities because they include counting backwards from a predetermined number as well as forwards.

Are numbers the most important part of math?

While numbers and operations are fundamental, there are many “strands” in the math curriculum in addition to numbers, all of which are important. These include geometry, measurement, probability, data management, patterning and algebra. The following chart describes the strands in mathematics:

Ontario Mathematics Curriculum Strands

Number Sense and Numeration

An understanding of numbers, number systems and their related operations.

  • Counting
  • Numerical recognition
  • Part/whole relationships
  • Estimation and mental math computation
  • Fractions and decimals
  • Operations and algorithms
  • Calculators, spreadsheets, graphing programs


An understanding of measurement concepts, skills and tools directly related to the world in which students live

  • Estimation
  • Linear measurement
  • Area & perimeter
  • Capacity
  • Volume
  • Time
  • Temperature
  • Mass
  • Money concepts

Geometry & Spatial Sense

An awareness of one’s surroundings and the ability to represent and describe objects and their interrelationships in space

  • Characteristics of 2-D and 3-D shapes
  • Classification of shapes
  • Similarities and differences
  • Transformations: translations (slides), reflections (flips), rotations (turns)
  • Angles
  • Symmetry
  • Use of dynamic geometry software

Patterning and Algebra

An understanding of patterns and functions

  • Exploration of patterns and pattern rules in concrete materials
  • Exploration of patterns and pattern rules in numbers
  • Use of calculators and computer applications to explore patterns
  • Use of algebra as a problem solving tool

Data Management and Probability

An understanding of data collection, data representation and the communication of findings as well as determining the probable outcome of specific events

  • Collecting and organizing data
  • Representing data using a variety of graphical forms including computer spreadsheets and graphs
  • Making conclusions
  • Reporting and evaluating findings
  • Identifying probable outcomes

How can we implement the Ontario math curriculum strands into fun math activities at home?

All strands are important, but some are easier to do at home using materials around the house.  The easiest strand to support at home is measurement.  Early measurement experiences should emphasize the development of comparative language (e.g., more than/less than; taller/shorter; heavier/lighter…) using nonstandard units of measurement.  Standard measurement tools such as rulers, measuring cups, and scales, can (and should) be included with the measurement materials for young children to explore informally. The necessity for standard measurement gradually becomes meaningful when children have occasions to experience activities like: baking, making homemade play dough, weighing each other (or other objects) with a bathroom or baby scale, or measuring on a growth chart to see how much they have grown.

Geometry is also easy to incorporate into simple games that can be played while walking to and from school, for example "I spy something that is round." "I spy something that is octagonal." "I spy something that looks like a cone."

Household items can be used to teach sorting.  For example,as your child tidies up toys or clothing, discuss which items should go together and why. Show your child how you organize food items in the fridge – fruit together, vegetables together, drinks on one shelf, condiments on another. Encourage your child to sort other household items – crayons by colour, cutlery by type or shape, coins by denomination.  These activities are natural springboards to making a chart.  For example, you and your child can create a chart to record the number of apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruit your family eats each day. At the end of the month, have your child count the number of pieces of each type of fruit eaten. Ask how many more pieces of one kind of fruit were eaten than of another. What was your family's least favourite fruit that month?

It is important for children to realize that math is much more than numbers and that we use math in many ways, every day.

How can I make arithmetic practice fun?

The best strategy is to turn “drill” into “thrill” by making arithmetic a game that can be played while driving, walking, packing lunch or playing in the bathtub. 

Make operations a game by asking questions like these:

  • What number is (three) (less/more) than (sixteen)?
  • I’m thinking of a number that is (two) more than (twenty-nine).
  • We have been in school (forty-three) days. I wonder how many more days we have to  be in school before we reach (fifty)? Can you explain why you said (seven) days?

Can you give more examples of turning drills into thrills to make arithmetic practice fun?

Here are some more operation you can turn into a game by asking questions like these:

  • What number is (two) times as big as (three)?
  • What number is (half) of (eight)?
  • I’m thinking of a number between (ten and twenty). The number is larger than (twelve) and smaller than (sixteen). The number is (even). What is the number?
  • What number is between (twenty-seven and twenty-nine)?
  • What number is just before (nineteen)?
  • What number is just after (thirty-nine)?

Encourage your child to create questions for you to answer.  Another family member can check solutions and keep score.

What are some strategies for teaching my child how to use a calendar?

Children are often puzzled when they change the monthly calendar. They want to begin every month on Sunday. Here is an activity that might help them understand how the first day of the month is determined. At the end of the month, cut around the calendar’s outline. Make sure you cut away all the blank boxes. Place that month’s calendar so it fits with the previous month like a puzzle.