A child’s first years are a time of rapid learning. Research tells us that babies have an innate capacity to understand numbers. As your child’s first teacher, you play a key role in developing their numeracy skills from an early age.
Developing numeracy skills early gives children an important foundation for their learning and development. It helps prepare them for daily life, including general problem-solving and handling money.
Maths includes noticing numbers, shapes, patterns, size, time and measurement. Incorporating maths into everyday experiences is easy and fun. Maths is everywhere – in the playground, at the shops and home.
Children need lots of experiences in making, counting, drawing and talking about numbers. This section will help you to build these skills in the children in your care. You may feel the maths your child is doing at their early childhood centre, kindergarten or school is different from how you were taught, but you can still support your child in many ways. Make connections for your child by explaining how numbers and counting are a part of everyday life.
Doing maths together at home
It is important for children to develop specific language skills related to maths. Visits to the playground, or helping at home, provide rich and meaningful contexts to develop these skills. it might take time for your child to use these terms and language effectively, but exposure to this mathematical talk is strong support for future learning.
Talking about maths
- Use specific terms when asking for items. For example, ask your child to get the ‘one-litre’ milk bottle from the fridge, or the ‘one-kilo’ bag of flour from the cupboard.
- When cooking, talk about different measurements used, such as teaspoons, millilitres, litres, and cups. Discuss ideas about empty and full.
- As you walk, talk and play together describe your child’s movements as they climb ‘over’ the fence, slide ‘between’ the poles, and swing ‘under’ the monkey bars. This helps your child understand language related to spatial awareness.
- Sorting activities support your child to understand concepts such as ‘same’ and ‘different’. Use recycling as an opportunity to sort items to place in the rubbish. For example, paper, plastic, food waste and general waste.
Counting is one of the first experiences of maths for young children.
Learning to say numbers often begins with a favourite song or rhyme and the repetition of the number names. Children will often say the numbers before they recognise and identify individual numbers.
Here are some activities and tips to engage your child with counting:
- Listen for the counting sequence in these songs and rhymes, which can all be found on :
- Five Little Ducks
- Ten in the Bed
- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive
- Ten Green Bottles
- Five Little Monkeys
- 1, 2, Buckle My Shoe
- Children will begin by counting all objects in a group, for example, fingers and toes, the buttons on their clothes, steps to the house, or their toys.
- As children move on to counting a set of objects, they begin to link each object with one number. In the beginning, encourage your child to touch each object as they say the matching number.
- When beginning to count a group of objects, children may need to arrange the objects in a line to help them count. Later they will be able to start counting from any object without arranging the objects.
- Once your child is confident, use different numbers as the starting point for practising counting. For example, start counting from 6 or 10. Ask your child to count forwards and backwards. Ask what number comes before, or what number comes after, a given number.
Counting every day
You can incorporate counting into everyday activities such as:
- Cut fruit into six pieces and ask your child to count the pieces.
- Count the pieces of toast you cooked for breakfast.
- Add the total number of cutlery items at the table.
- Count the number of people travelling in the car or on the bus.
- Count the number of houses as you walk along the street.
- Count how many steps it takes to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom.
- Practice counting when grocery shopping with your child (for example, counting the number of apples you put into the bag).
- Encourage your child to talk about the number of things in the pictures they draw.
Hunting for numbers
Number hunts are a fun and engaging activity for your child. Ask your child to find numbers around you. Look at and say the numbers on car number plates, signs, calendars, newspapers, shopping catalogues, speed signs, and houses.
Using playing cards
Playing with cards is always a fun activity, particularly on a rainy day or on holidays. You can:
- Play matching number games like ‘Snap’ with playing cards.
- Order the numbers on the cards from smallest to largest, or largest to smallest.
Playing shop helps ground your child’s maths learning in the real world while also developing their social skills. One way to play shop is to create a mini-shop at home. Here are a few tips and activities:
- Collect food and grocery items and label them with prices written on sticky notes, or prices cut out of shopping catalogues.
- Talk about how we pay for items using coins, notes and cards.
- Make paper money or use play money to buy and sell goods from the mini-shop.
- Collect old receipts or price tags and use them in the mini-shop.
- Notice the features of different coins, including their shapes and the animals and people shown. Discuss the differences. Create coin rubbings with pencils and paper.
- Make a play credit card with a string of numbers on it. Make a paper keypad to press numbers that match those on the card.
- Encourage your child to order food items by height (tallest to the shortest) or by cost (least expensive to most expensive).
- Introduce kitchen scales to the mini-shop to weigh foods, such as a box of tea bags or a bag of rice, and order items by weight.
Making maths fun and interactive by playing games will help engage your child. Here are some ideas:
- Play ‘I Spy’ or other games to help your child identify shapes, numbers and patterns.
- Board games are a fun way to involve the whole family with maths. Help your child when rolling dice to count, move, and stop after moving the number shown on the dice.
- When using dice your child may count all the dots on the die face to determine the total number. Over time they will begin to recognise automatically the value on the die face without counting.
- Play number games online with your child. Here is a short list of good websites to help begin your online search for resources:
- (select Early Childhood or Primary Students tabs)
Playing with shapes
Playing with shapes helps develop your child’s awareness of different shapes. It also improves their hand-eye coordination. Here are some tips and activities:
- Jigsaw puzzles, tangrams or shape-sorting toys help teach your child problem-solving skills and spatial awareness.
- Name and notice the similarities and differences between shapes. For example, shapes with curves, corners or edges.
- Help your child draw shapes, cut them out and sort them into groups. Ask your child to explain why they have sorted the shapes this way.
- Use cookie cutters to explore different shapes using playdough. Encourage your child to identify shapes in their everyday life, such as a round ball, square window or hexagonal ‘STOP’ sign.
- Making paper planes together combines many mathematical concepts, including angles, shapes, halving and symmetry. Once complete, you can compare which plane flew the furthest and have fun measuring too.
- Use building blocks to create a tower. Using the same number of blocks, ask your child to build another tower that’s different to the first tower.
Recognising and making patterns are important maths skills for exploring numbers, shapes and symmetry. Activities include:
- Identify and explain visual patterns on clothing, wrapping paper, buildings, crockery, cards and furniture. Create a scrapbook to refer back to for ideas during arts and crafts.
- Use coloured pegs, blocks, beads or cutlery to begin a pattern for your child to continue. Once confident, ask them to copy or create a pattern of their own.
- Try to incorporate some patterns in rhythm. Create a clapping pattern and ask your child to copy and then create their own pattern.
- Encourage your child to draw, create and describe their own patterns. Use them for borders on greeting cards.
Moving with maths
These ideas use the movement of the body to experience counting:
- Count each toss of the ball as you play a game.
- Estimate how many jumps it will take to get to… Then count how many jumps it takes to get to…
- Count with your child as you climb steps or walk from the park bench to the slide.
- Ask your child to find ways to balance their weight with a friend on the see-saw.
- Sing rhymes and songs that involve counting while skipping.
Understanding measurement and scale are crucial to your child’s understanding of maths. Here are some tips and activities:
- Use a wall measuring chart to measure the height of people in your family.
- Talk to your child about objects around them and help them judge which is bigger or smaller, taller or shorter.
- Cut a piece of string for your child – any length will do. Use the string to measure the objects in your house to find out what is longer or shorter than your ‘string measuring tape’. Ask your child to identify anything that is the same length.
- Explore other ways of measuring, such as using a cup, jug, teaspoon, icy pole sticks, footprints or hand lengths.
- Help your child to build a tower of blocks that is taller than a favourite toy. Ask your child to count the total blocks to measure the height of the tower.
- Estimate and measure who can jump the furthest, stand on one foot for a longer period, or how many buttons might fill a jar.
- Explore the size of different containers by pouring and filling them. Estimate, then check to see which holds more or less.
- Notice changes in the weather and the time of day. Use an old bottle and create a ‘rain gauge’ to measure and monitor how much it rains.
Asking questions to investigate
Ask your child questions like these to encourage them to investigate maths:
- What shapes can you see?
- How could we measure the...?
- How will we find half?
- What is the best way to share the...?
- How do I get from … to …?
- Which is closer: the sandpit or the swing?
- How tall can you build a tower before it falls?
Animations to watch together
The encourage families to explore maths together as they walk, talk and play in everyday situations. The set of three animations support families to bring mathematics and numeracy into conversations in the home, the supermarket and outdoors.
The animation series has been developed to support families engage in numeracy and to build home-school connections around mathematics learning. Following the introductory episode, there are 9 stand-alone episodes (each between one and two minutes long). Longer play versions have in-built pauses along with prompts and questions to encourage families to talk about the maths presented. There are also suggested activities that families may like to explore after watching the episodes.
Reviewed 25 January 2023