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How to encourage mathematics play at home with everyday items

November 15, 2020

Children engage with maths and counting from a very young age. Just think about all the songs that we teach them (“one, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive!”) or the way we count to ten while they go and hide, and it’s easy to see that mathematics is a huge part of life with children.

Child care centres make a point of incorporating mathematical play into their curriculum. Toddle spoke with Meena Sadozai, the Centre Manager from Kindalin Early Childhood Learning Centre in Cherrybrook in Sydney to find out some simple ideas for parents to get their children interested in mathematics. The good news is, you can do this with everyday household items.

‘Mathematical concepts are explored throughout your child's day of learning and exploring with their Educators,’ explains Meena.

‘They develop and practice problem solving skills by investigating the consequences of their actions in their play.’ 

What are the first elements of maths that children learn?

‘We support children to become familiar with mathematical language such as "bigger than", "smaller", "largest", "smallest" during their investigations, says Meena.

‘Number skills are also expanded through experiences including rote counting (counting numbers sequentially), numeral recognition and associating a number with the correct amount of objects.’

How can parents support their child's mathematical thinking? 

Meena explains that it is through a parent’s active engagement that children can start to understand mathematical concepts.

‘This is intentional teaching; actively promoting your child’s learning through worthwhile interactions and challenging experiences that foster high-level thinking skills,’ she shares. 

‘You can do this by demonstrating to them, asking open questions, making suggestions, explaining and engaging in shared thinking and problem solving with them.’

Meena’s ideas for mathematics games at home 

1. Construction play 

‘The art of intentional teaching is that almost any play exploration or activity can be used to promote learning,’ Meena says.

> What you need: Building items, i.e. building blocks, LEGO, boxes, lounge cushions, containers - anything to build!

‘Your engagement with your child is integral to their learning,’ Meena explains. 

‘Dedicate some time to build something together. It may be a tower, a bridge or ask your child what they would like to build.

While you construct with them, here are some intentional teaching strategies to use to promote mathematical thinking.’

  • Be engaged with your child, be at their level and show interest in what they are doing.
  • Role model, show them inquiry processes, including wonder and curiosity.
  • Role model mathematical language e.g. “I have used 10 blocks to create my tower, it looks like you have used many more”, “I have 3 small blocks and 2 large blocks to build with”, or “Can you create a tower that is bigger than mine?”
  • Expand on your child’s thoughts of mathematical concepts, ask new questions from their suggestions or ideas.

2. Finding & Counting

‘This experience will facilitate your child’s mathematical thinking and can be done using almost any materials you have around the house,’ shares Meena.

> What you need:

  • A4 sheet of paper with a number written on it (appropriate to your child's level).
  • A collection of different items, such as shells, pegs, rocks or toys (you may collect these for them prior to the activity, or you may have them collect items as they count them as part of the activity).

‘Again, your engagement with your child is integral to their learning,’ explains Meena. ‘Allow them to make associations with the number on the paper and the objects they are collecting.

It is not necessary that they collect ONLY the number of objects that are written on the paper. If they collect too many or too little, this gives you an opportunity to use mathematical comparison words such as 'more than', 'less than' and so on.’

Other strategies and learning during this activity can be:

  • Encourage your child to touch each object and count out loud.
  • Sort the objects by size, colour, material etc.
  • Discuss shapes of the objects they have found.

‘This allows them to develop counting, addition and subtraction skills as well as ordering sizes and understanding shapes,’ she says.

Find out more about Kindalin Cherrybrook, view photos and videos, read reviews, explore the programs and menu - or book a tour! 

If you need child care for your little one, Toddle can help! Just enter your postcode in the search box at the top of the page.

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Written by

Lee Price

Toddle is the most comprehensive child care finder in Australia, on a mission to make parents’ lives easier.