6 Exciting Number Games: A Parents Guide to Early Number Play.

Maths was my least favourite topic in school. I’m pretty sure my GCSE maths teacher had to sell a kidney to bribe the exam board into passing me (hopefully I’m just joking). However, J seems to be the opposite. He has a growing fascination with numbers and a natural ability to learn the concepts of maths. Today I thought I’d write about what maths actually means for children aged 2-5 (the early years).

Maths in the early years framework is split into two sections.

  1. Numbers (so that ranges from recognising numerals, understanding concepts of more/fewer, knowing what numbers mean and what they represent).
  2. Shapes, Space and Measure (2D and 3D shapes, how to use them and what they represent, measuring time etc).

For this blog I will focus on numbers as this is where most of J’s interest is right now. Here are the governments expectations of numeracy based on the Early Years Foundation Stage…

Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), DfE, 2012 p.32-34.

I’m a big believer that children learn best when they are interested and active. Once you figure out your child’s interest or motivation then use these to bring in numeracy. You can do this in everyday scenario such as door numbers, checkout numerals, talking about the time on the clock. Here’s some other examples of what we get up to in our house…

  1. Number Treasure Hunt

J and I were playing in the garden. I had the saucepan from J’s pretend kitchen and asked him to find ingredients. I asked him for particular numbers of objects such as ‘3 stones’ and ‘5 water gems’. J would then run off and return with what I needed. Each time he counted out the items to make sure he was right. Once we had everything I pretend to make soup from them (although J decided it was a cake in the end…honestly I have no say in our pretend play these days, haha).

Learning opportunity:

22-36m: Encourage lower amounts such as 1-2 for child to  find. Try a bigger amount of  items ready on the table/kitchen so you can count together so your child practises reciting numbers in sequence.

30-50m: Encourage matching numeral and quantity correctly (eg: if you ask for 3 can they bring you just 3 items?). If they bring the incorrect amount talk about it together to encourage interest in number problems (adult can model how to solve them).

40-60m: Create opportunity to use vocabulary such as ‘adding’ and ‘subtracting’, and for children to find ‘one more; or ‘one less’ (eg: correcting themselves or correcting the adult if they have too many/too few items).

2. Count the Bears

For this activity I used our Twinkl numeral cards. The aim was to fit the right number of bears onto the number card. J choose the higher numbers (he has a thing for numerals 10 and 11 at the moment). J would count out and stop once he got to the right number. I had a go too on the smaller numbers with J checking I was right. We talked about which cards had the most/fewest bears.

Learning Opportunity:

22-36m: Count out together so child practices reciting numbers in sequence (the cards can help to reinforce order of the numbers). Begins to make comparisons between quantities which are obviously difference eg: 1 compared to 10 bears (more/lots/fewer).

30-50m: Discuss the numerals and that numbers to us how many objects are in a group (so numeral 3 means 3 items, it’s not just a pretty squiggle with the name ‘3’). Encourage child to talk about number names and number language spontaneously.

40-60m: Develop recognising numerals 1-5, and count out bears saying one number name for each bear. Have a large number of bears to choose from so child learns to stop at correct number even when more are left over.

3. Dinosaurs Addition

This is an activity you can do two ways. You can use dinosaur toys and make it part of playing small world games or you can print out these dinosaur addition sheets. I used the print out sheets as J’s pretend play skills are very selective due to his autism. Plus J loves doing ‘maths games’ right now so he actually really enjoys having the ‘add’ and ‘equals’ signs and knowing he’s doing sums (still not sure how he’s my child). I printed out small numerals for J to place in the ‘equals’ box as he is not at the stage where he is ready to write numerals yet. We’ll build up to that as his writing/literacy skills develop.

Learning Opportunity:

22-36m: Use small world dinosaur toys and ask child to ‘give me one dinosaur’ or ‘two dinosaurs’ to encourage recognising small numbers of objects. Hide some of the dinosaurs or add more ‘baby dinos’ to show that the quantity change when you bring in more/take away items.

30-50m: If using the small world dinosaurs try counting how many in total (stick to 3-4 to start with) and then split into different groups eg colour, size, type of dino and talk about how even when separated the total will still stay the same. If using the worksheet then count together to see how many dinosaur altogether on each line/sum and find ways to represent that amount eg: count on fingers, copy the numeral in the equal box, using the small world dinosaur toys to represent how many on the worksheet.

40-60m: Introduce the vocabulary of ‘adding’ and ‘equals’/all together. Make it into a game where you each guess/estimate how many are all together and then count/complete the sum to check.

4. Die based games

Board games are a great, fun way to bring in maths skills. We have a variety of board games where we count the number of spots on the die to tell us how many items we need to pick up, which card we need to pick up or how many space you need to move. Dices are great tools as children learn to count each individual spot and then say how many those spots represent. It also allows older children start to recognise how many is in a group without even counting.

Learning Opportunity:

22-36m: Count spots together/count out as your moving the counter so children practise reciting numbers in sequence. If you don’t feel your child is ready for a die then you can use spinners. Some spinners games have the numeral rather than spots/items to count. At this age its just about exposure to number opportunities.

36-50m: Board games encourage interest in number problems. Using the dice to tell you how many moves to make on a board helps children realise counting can be for more things than objects. Encourage children to match the numeral and amount correctly.

40-60m: Counting on a dice encourages counting items that can’t be moved (so children have to remember where they started, which they’ve counted etc). As the patterns of dots on the die are irregular and not always in a neat line this helps with counting skills.

5. Singing with props

Singing can be a fun way to explore counting. Nursery rhymes such as ‘Baa, Baa Black Sheep’ (“3 bags full”, “1 for the…”), 5 Little Ducks (great for counting backwards/one less), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (“once I caught a fish alive”) all have numbers built into them. You can sing along to a CD, a youtube video or find props to use so you can visually see the numerals and quantities changing. You can buy wash gloves with ducks or frogs on to sing in the bath or song books.

We got creative (mainly because J’s love of Star Wars often takes over everything) and used his Star Wars waters to change “10 Green Bottles” into “5 Star Wars Bottles” sitting on a wall. We actually used a wall too, just for fun (maths doesn’t have to be indoors).

Learning Opportunity: 

22-36m: This encourages reciting number names in sequence and knowing that quantity changes when items are added or taken away.

30-50m: Using props or even just the fingers on their hands shows an interest in representing numbers. It also offers opportunity to focus on reciting 1-10 in correct order.

40-60m: Adding numerals encourage recognising numerals. Children can also focus on counting out each item giving one number name to each ‘prop’/finger.

6. Number Sequencing

I downloaded this number line challenge to get J to make his own number line. He loves numerals and is quick to point them out. This activity was to see whether he could not only recognise the numerals but place them in the correct order…with no prompt or visual clues. The first 6 numbers J could do quickly, and he added 10 to the last box straight away. For 7-9 J counted up, stopping at the correct number. The great thing about this resource is that we have now stuck it up so J can look at it and use it when he’s playing. I’m hoping to use it to help him start to write the numerals too. He can use this to copy from (through play activities such as making shopping lists).

Learning Opportunity:

22-36m: This activity will be more advanced than what is expected for this age group. However, you could create the number line and then use it as a visual to show what numerals look like when counting.

30-50m: This activity encourages reciting 1-10 and showing interest in numbers (make comments, talk about shape, what’s next etc). This can then be used to help create marks on paper to represent numeral by copying the shape of the numerals.

40-60m: Children can recognise numerals and talk about which numerals have meaning to them eg: age, door number, favourite number etc.

Maths in ‘real life’

Maths doesn’t need to be through activities with an adult. It can be during everyday experiences for example:

  • Calculators
  • Looking for door numbers, numbers on license plates
  • Setting out knife and forks for dinner.
  • Pressing the correct floor button in lift.
  • Measuring with tape measure or rulers.
  • Size shoes.
  • Birthday cards-ones with numerals on.
  • Time-sand timers, clocks, alarms, stopwatch

Even if like me you have a fear of maths, it’s easy to bring numbers into daily life. The more you show your child that you’re enjoying it, the more your child will see maths as a positive thing. I actually really enjoy our maths games. Even when J sits in the back of the car shouting ‘Mummy, what’s 1 add 1? Mummy what’s 20 add 12?’ as I’m driving. You never know, he may end up an accountant…or an evil genius who takes over the world. Either way by encouraging numeracy now I am giving J a stepping stone in his early learning.

To find out more about what we get up to at home check out our Instagram. Make sure you follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on news and my random thoughts.

Twinkl Educational Publishing

Disclaimer: I am a Twinkl blogger. This means I get my subscription free in return for blog post showing how we use their resources. All views and opinions are completely my own!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Loads of ideas and inspiration here, thank you! Penguin’s not very keen on maths (not yet anyway), but has a pretty good grasp of the numbers 1-9 and what they represent. I agree that board games can be super useful in this context, plus you the practise several other skills too, such as turn taking and other social skills 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      I think it’s important that activities offer a range of learning opportunities. Board games offer a lot of skills. I’ve got my eye on a few new orchard toy board games 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

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