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To many adults, the words maths and play have absolutely nothing to do with each other. However, play is the natural way in which children learn.

It is through play, and how adults play with them, that young children learn maths.

Maths is an essential life skill. It is important to support your child to become competent with maths. Development in this area of learning is often predictive of a child’s future school achievement.

Areas of maths

Helping your child with maths

Children learn by engaging and getting involved in real, hands on activities. Everyday routines and tasks provide lots opportunities for your child to learn maths with you.

  • setting the table - how many forks, knives, plates for each person
  • shopping - ask your child to collect items, for example  3 onions, 1 long carrot, count out 3 pound coins
  • laundry - ask child to help you match socks, sort tee shirts by size (biggest, smallest) and so on
  • cooking and baking - for example, counting 3 spoons of something
  • going for a walk - how many buses, squirrels, find the widest tree, smallest leaf, count steps to the top of the hill, numbers on signs or doors, talk about different patterns on gates, tree bark, leaves and so on
  • travelling - talk about how far it is and how long journey will take - share a map or make one together

Make your own games together

Treasure baskets

Treasure baskets can be made for young children from items that you will probably already have in your home. These provide opportunities for exploring the shape and size of items as they post, tip out and fill.

Pretend play

Older children love pretend play which provides opportunities to learn about maths. A cardboard box can be:

  • a rocket - countdown to blast off
  • a car - add patterns on wheels and numerals on number plate
  • a pound shop - use items from around the home such as toys, tins, and packets to resource the shop and buy the items using pound coins cut from cardboard
  • a Goldilocks cottage - what sizes and how many bowls do you need for the 3 bears, and add items such as hats, bags, kitchen utensils from around the home for play

Board games

Make your own board game and use dice to move around the board, counting on from the last number.

Dice games

Throw a dice and perform same number of action, for example 5 jumps.

You can add more challenge when your child is ready by using 2 dice and supporting your child to add 2 sets of numbers.

You may find that your child will start to recognise the amount of dots on the dice without having to count them. This is a good skill to learn.

Hide and seek

Take turns hiding and talk about where that was. Describe where an item has been hidden or found, for example 'on top of' or 'behind'.

Teddy bears picnic

Have a teddy bears picnic but with your child’s favourite toys, for example with dinosaurs or Paw Patrol characters. 

Growing a plant

This is an opportunity to learn about the lapse of time, changing of seasons.


Look at photographs together. Talk about last year, when they were 2 years old, when they were a baby and so on, to help them understand about time.

Make playdough

Make your own playdough. All that is needed for the basic recipe is flour, salt, water and oil. Different ingredients can be added for interest. For example, herbs, flower petals, rice, food colouring.

This provides lots of opportunities to learn about volume and quantity, for example, cup measurements of water. 

Also, your child can then fill bun tins or empty egg cartons with the dough. This encourages learning about dividing as they share the mixture between each individual area.

Songs, rhymes and stories

Sing number songs and rhymes together every day as repetition helps to develop memory, e.g.

Try making some props to use. For example, with the currant bun rhyme, why not draw pictures of currant buns or make some from play-dough and use them to illustrate that there are less buns each time one is bought.

Counting rhymes include:

Read stories together that have a maths theme such as:

  • 3 Billy Goats Gruff - talk about 3 goats, 3 different sizes, over and under the bridge, who crosses bridge first, second, last
  • Rosie’s Walk - talk about the positions of the characters in the story, for example, behind or on top
  • Going on a Bear Hunt - talk about going over, under and what happens at the start and the end
  • The Doorbell Rang - talk about sharing (dividing) the cookies between all the visitors
  • Who Sank the Boat - talk about weight, and why the boat sunk when the lightest animal got in