Today’s post is full of playful hands-on math to try with young children.
We have ideas to help kids aged 2 to 6 learn about numbers, measurement, geometry, patterning, and data management (graphing!) – all in a fun hands-on way. Because that’s how kids learn math best when they’re young – through play!
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In Ontario public schools (where I teach), the elementary school mathematics curriculum is broken down into 5 different areas or “strands.”
It’s helpful as a parent to know what these areas are so that you can make sure that you’re helping expose your child to each of them in day to day life and play.
Number Sense and Numeration – includes all the understandings of place value, as well as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals etc.
Measurement – focuses on the concepts of length, width, distance, time, weight and mass, capacity and volume, temperature etc.
Geometry – includes the study of 2D shapes and 3D solids, as well as movement in the 4 directions in space
Patterning – focuses on identifying visual patterns, as well as sound patterns and movement patterns, and creating and extending these patterns
Data Management – focuses on collecting and organizing information in different ways so that it can be compared and better understood
What IS Playful Hands-On Math?
Young children should begin to develop these mathematical understandings at their own pace through repeated and authentic experiences as much as possible – and this often means through their PLAY!
Having young children memorize flashcards of facts, or even relying too much on paper-based mathematical activities, robs them of the chance to truly see math as a thinking and problem-solving activity. One where there are many ways to get to an answer and many ways to view a problem.
It may also have the unintended side-effect of robbing them of the JOY of learning to think mathematically. We all know too many people who say they hated math in school and still do.
The activities I’ve gathered today are grouped under the 5 strands I mentioned above and are all hands-on ways to get young children to have fun while learning to think mathematically.
For each strand, I have included a list of concepts that children aged 2 to 6 can be exposed to which will help them develop beginning math skills. I’ve also included examples of activities that can be used to support each concept.
At the bottom of each strand, I’ve listed some awesome playful hands-on math activities that I have found from around the web.
Playful Number Sense and Numeration
- Count real everyday objects accurately up to about 5 – 10 things (e.g. How many cars do you have in that garage? How many pieces of broccoli would you like? Let’s count them out.)
- Discuss the concepts of more, less and the same (e.g. We each have some pom poms. Who has the most? Who has the least?)
- Put objects into order from biggest to smallest or vice versa (Which sand scoop is the biggest here? Which is the next biggest? Which is the smallest?)
- Recognize the written numerals (e.g. “7” and matching it to the number word “seven”)
- Add and subtract one thing from a group of things (e.g. We’ve got 4 places set at the dinner table and we need one more for our guest…how many plates is that altogether? How many forks will we need now?)
We have done lots of fun hands-on math activities here at One Time Through including:
- Measure and compare the length of all kinds of things (e.g. Plants growing, their own height, the distance from one side of the fort to the other.)
- Measure and compare the weight and mass of objects (e.g. Which one of these toys do you think is the heaviest? How can we check?)
- Notice clocks and how they measure time (e.g. When the short hand points to a number, it is near that time. The short hand is pointing almost to the 6 – that means it’s close to 6:00 – our dinnertime!)
- Measure and compare the volume and capacity of liquids and containers (e.g. Let’s use these measuring cups to measure out ingredients for our cookies.)
- Learn about different standard measurement tools such as thermometers, clocks, weight scales, balances, rulers, measuring cups, etc.
- Use non-standard measuring tools to measure with (e.g. Using hand lengths to measure the width of the fridge, or a length of string to measure and compare the heights of different family members.)
Baking with Kids, Growing Seeds, and Indoor Snow Play from One Time Through
Kinetic Sand Math from Left Brain Craft Brain
Weights Lengths and Shapes Math Activities from The Practical Mom
Recycled Craft Measurement & Counting Game from Artsy Momma
Playful Hands-On Geometry
- Play with 3D blocks and learn their proper names and characteristics (e.g. While playing with blocks, teach words such as “cylinder, cone, sphere, cube, rectangular prism.”)
- Do activities with 2D shapes and learn their proper names and characteristics (e.g. Make art using different shapes and teach words such as “circle, square, rectangle, oval, triangle, sides, corners.”)
- Build structures out of different shapes (e.g. Use Tinkertoys, or straws and marshmallows to make towers, bridges etc.)
- Look for and label shapes in the environment (e.g. Let’s see how many squares we can count on that house. or What shape is that sign?”)
- Look at symmetry in the environment (e.g. Point out butterfly wings and the symmetry of our bodies and faces.)
Lego Symmetry from Fun At Home With Kids
Indoor Snowball Structures from One Time Through
Pattern Blocks and Playdough from Munchkins and Moms
Kids Quilt Activity from Buggy and Buddy
Mathematical Skills Block Stacking from Stay At Home Educator
Make a Truck from Shapes from Powerful Mothering
Symmetrical Patterns with Natural Materials from The Imagination Tree
- Look for patterns in the environment (e.g. Polka dots, plaid, stripes, repeating shapes, etc.)
- Describe patterns they see using words (e.g. That shirt has a red stripe, then a blue one and then a red one and a blue one and it keeps repeating.)
- Create patterns of their own with blocks or in their art
- Copy patterns that are visual and auditory (e.g. Play the “repeat after me” game while clapping out simple patterns – see the Egg Shaker games below.)
- Continue or extend simple repeating patterns (e.g. Let’s repeat these dance steps until the song ends!)
Hands-On Data Management
- Sort different objects into groups and assign a name to each group (e.g. Group all the cars into one basket and all the dolls into another when cleaning up.)
- Start to use objects to represent numbers (e.g. Use coloured chips to keep track of points in a bowling game.)
- Learn how to use tally marks to record numbers (e.g. Keep track of the number of books read/songs learned/days at daycare using tallies.)
- Help make bar graphs and picture graphs (e.g. Sort a variety of objects into different groups and compare the sizes of the groups.)
Hope you found some fun and playful hands-on math activities for your 2 to 6 year old today.
Ideas for this curriculum were compiled and adapted from these resources: The ELECT document for Early Childhood Settings in Ontario, Elementary and Middle School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally by John A. Van De Walle, and About Teaching Mathematics, Grades K-8: A K-8 Resource by Marilyn Burns.