Motivating kids to do math is no small task. To get my reluctant kids to work their sums in the early grades of math, I have found that nothing compares to bribery. And bribery involving candy is king. You don’t want to do this every day because of the health issues, but once in awhile it will get their brains working like nothing else.
Just use candy, marshmallows, or chocolate chips. Even non-sugary treats like goldfish crackers will do. Some kids might be motivated by raisins, but I’ve never seen the kid who will work for peas or corn kernels.
Use the candy to represent the numbers in the math problem, have them work the problem, then receive a sweet reward after each sum. You decide how much: the total, or one piece each time. I like to have my littlies work many of their problems on a little lap whiteboard as well. I just write out the problems I want them to work on their board and let them solve them. Kids who are overwhelmed by big assignments can be given just one or two problems at a time on their board. When those are complete, give them one or two more at a time. It feels more doable to the overwhelmed kid.
As well as being motivational, kids need manipulatives at this age in order to understand what is happening with the abstract numbers on their assignment sheet. Of course, you don’t have to use food – toys, beans, linking cubes, counting bears, or a number of other items work too. But isn’t food just more fun every so often?