Education Insights| Playing at Maths


When thinking about learning maths, most adults would not think about playing with blocks or cooking in the kitchen. Instead, they would recall learning arithmetic in boring lessons in school. However, the most effective and practical means of learning maths often comes from play and other everyday tasks that are simple to support.

Children first begin to use mathematical concepts through play, well before they are even able to use numbers. As a child plays with blocks they begin thinking about concepts that will later apply to maths. They will naturally begin to develop mathematical language such as ‘patterns’, ‘shapes’, ‘heavy’, ‘light’, ‘big’, or ‘small’. Educators and parents can encourage children to develop a positive attitude towards maths at an early age simply by providing the right resources and encouraging them to explore and have fun.

Continuing to encourage children to learn through play is just as important for children as they grow older, as it is for younger children. Children often wonder when they will use maths in real life situations because they begin to equate arithmetic with maths, the use of which is not as clear in everyday life. This runs the risk of children only practicing for the sake of passing a test or getting a grade. When children view maths in this way, they might start to develop a negative mindset towards learning. By continuing to incorporate play and real scenarios into a child’s learning as they grow, they can recognize that they use maths all the time.

Parents can support their children by playing board games at home that involve maths or even getting them interested in one of the many engaging maths puzzles of maths and apps on a tablet. These games are designed to challenge learners to think creatively and develop a growth mindset as they learn how to overcome new challenges.

Unfortunately, neither adults nor children can play all the time, so another way to further a positive mindset about maths is to highlight the ways it is used every day. Some of the most common ways that everyone uses maths daily is by using money, building things and cooking. There are many simple ways to help children recognise and practice maths, such as asking them to estimate what they think the bill might be when you go out to dinner or asking them to read the time. With older children, you could plan a whole meal with them. This could start with questions such as, “how many people are we feeding?” or “how many groceries do we need to buy to make enough?”. They could then follow a recipe to make the meal. Doing activities like this with children not only helps to foster a positive mindset about maths, but also builds stronger relationships with them.

Educators often use their own knowledge and experience to create projects for their pupils that relate maths to the everyday. One fun example of this is bringing baking into the classroom. Having children bake a batch of pancakes can include many aspects of maths a student has to think about, such as:

  • Measuring ingredients, which are often in fractions.
  • Multiplying or dividing to create a batch.
  • Using the time to see how long something cooks.
  • Calculating how big to make a shape, so that it still has space to expand as it cooks.

Many other projects include mathematical concepts that are introduced in an engaging and challenging way. Writing a poem can include mathematical principals or rules. Haikus, for example, require the children to count out syllables in a word to follow the 5-7-5 rule. Giving children a variety of raw materials and asking them to engineer something out of them requires them to design, measure, estimate, and think about angles.

Teaching maths in a fun and engaging way by using play and relatable projects will help foster a positive mindset towards learning maths and challenge children to want to learn more. Our world is developing rapidly and needs people who are inspired to think creatively to solve problems. Building a strong base in mathematics will help develop these skills that will help them thrive in the future. Remember that maths is not all about arithmetic and we use maths in our everyday lives in ways that can be used to inspire, teach, and challenge children.