How To Teach Math To Kids: Simple Strategies To Teach Math Through Play

ALI Staff | Published  December 04, 2023

Learning mathematics through play is a fundamental aspect of early childhood education. It's a powerful approach that blends the natural curiosity and playfulness of young children with foundational math concepts.

This approach not only makes math engaging but also lays a solid foundation for future STEM learning.

Read this blog to discover:

  • Innovative play-based methods for introducing math to young children.
  • Strategies to integrate mathematics effectively in early childhood education.
  • Techniques to foster a positive and engaging math learning environment.

Armed with these insights, educators will be better equipped to inspire a love for math in their students, laying a solid foundation for future academic endeavors in the youngest learners.


early learning hands-on math


The Role of Play in Mathematical Understanding: Connecting Play, Early Math Skills, and STEM 

Play is an essential starting point for young children to embark on their journey through the world of mathematics. It breathes life into abstract concepts, making them accessible and engaging — a vital process for mastering STEM disciplines.

Teaching in this way lays a robust mathematical foundation and nurtures a positive attitude toward a subject that is often seen as challenging.

Research has consistently shown that early mathematical ability predicts broader academic success, particularly in STEM fields. By weaving math into the fabric of play, we not only deepen immediate comprehension but also pave the way for a lifetime of future learning. 


Strategies for Integrating Math in Play for Young Learners

When considering the ways in which children learn, incorporating math into play and day-to-day activities emerges as a natural and effective strategy.

The key is to identify opportunities where mathematical concepts can be introduced in a context that resonates with young learners.


Game-Based Learning

Educators can design games that require counting, sorting, or pattern recognition, turning a math lesson into an exciting quest.

Games with scoring systems, for instance, encourage basic arithmetic operations in a context that sparks enthusiasm and engagement.


Manipulatives and Hands-On Activities

Using physical objects like blocks or beads can help children visualize and understand mathematical ideas.

These manipulatives can be used to teach counting, addition, subtraction, and even early multiplication through grouping and sharing exercises.


Storytelling with Math

Creating stories around numbers and mathematical operations can give them meaning and context.

This could involve characters who encounter problems that can be solved with math, thereby highlighting its practical applications.


Integrating Music and Math

Rhythms and songs can make learning numbers and math operations memorable.

Clapping to a beat or following a melody can teach patterns, sequencing, and counting in a way that is both fun and educational.


Integrating Math into Daily Routines

Daily routines offer a wealth of opportunities for mathematical learning.

During snack time, children can practice counting by distributing food items or learn division by sharing equally among friends.

Setting the table can involve matching numbers of plates to chairs, introducing one-to-one correspondence.

Even clean-up time is an opportunity for categorizing and sorting, as children decide where each toy belongs.

By embedding math into these routine activities, educators help children see math as a useful, everyday tool rather than an abstract concept.

By using these strategies, educators can make math an integral, enjoyable part of playtime, encouraging children to embrace math concepts as a natural part of their learning and play experiences.


Play-Based Math Activities For Different Ages

The approach to teaching math through play is most effective when it's tailored to the developmental stage of the child.

Here's how educators can adapt activities for different age groups, ensuring that learning is both age-appropriate and engaging. 


Toddler Mathematics: Engaging 2-Year-Olds

Toddlers are naturally curious, and simple activities can harness this curiosity for mathematical discovery:

  • Pretend Play Corner: In the pretend play corner, toddlers can host a tea party, allocating the necessary items to each stuffed animal guest. As they distribute cups, spoons, and pretend snacks, they practice counting and one-to-one correspondence. Tips for educators: use clear language like "one cup for each friend" to reinforce the math concepts during the play.

  • Simple Measuring Activity: A simple measuring activity can be incorporated into play by comparing lengths, such as the distance of jumps during gym time. Educators can mark starting points and use non-standard units like footprints or blocks to measure the distance, fostering an early understanding of measurement.

  • Calendar Time: During calendar time, toddlers can count the days, enhancing their number sense. Adding a pattern activity, such as alternating sticker types for each day, integrates pattern recognition in a fun and visual manner. This can also be an opportunity to introduce terms like "today," "yesterday," and "tomorrow," setting a basic understanding of time. 

  • Shape Adventures: Take toddlers on a shape hunt around the classroom to find and name shapes in everyday objects. This adventure makes geometry a treasure hunt, with the educator guiding the toddlers to notice shapes in their environment, reinforcing shape recognition and vocabulary.


Mathematics for Preschoolers: Concepts for 3-Year-Olds and Up

As children grow, they're ready to expand their understanding through slightly more complex games and activities:

  • Attribute Sorting: Preschoolers can enhance their categorization skills with attribute sorting. Start with single-attribute sorting and progress to multi-attribute sorting to challenge them. For example, after sorting by color, encourage them to sort those same items by size or shape, promoting critical thinking and comparison skills.

  • Solving Simple Equations: Use everyday objects like Lego pieces or counting bears to solve simple equations. As children physically add or remove items, they visualize the concepts of addition and subtraction. Educators should encourage children to verbalize their thought processes to reinforce their understanding.

  • Mini-Markets: Set up a mini-market in the classroom, where preschoolers can use play money to buy and sell items. This immersive experience teaches basic economics and math as children calculate costs and make changes, turning abstract addition and subtraction into tangible transactions.

  • Garden Math: Involve children in an outdoor math activity by planting seeds in rows and counting them. This not only teaches counting but also introduces concepts of spacing and grouping. As plants grow, children can compare heights, introducing basic data collection and comparison.


Using Everyday Activities to Teach Math Concepts

Everyday activities are a treasure trove of opportunities for integrating math into a child's life. These experiences can make math feel less like a subject and more like a part of the child's natural world.

Here are some ways educators can incorporate math into routine activities:

  • Mealtime Math: During lunch or snack time, educators can encourage children to count their food items or discuss the shapes of various foods. For example, slices of apples can represent fractions, and arranging snacks in patterns can teach sequencing and grouping.

  • Outdoor Play: Playground time offers numerous chances for math learning. Counting steps on the climbing frame, measuring how high they can swing, or organizing races with a start and finish line all introduce basic math concepts in an outdoor setting.

  • Classroom Helper Tasks: Assigning roles like 'line leader' or 'snack distributor' can involve math as children count heads to ensure everyone is included. Tasks like distributing materials can also introduce basic division as children divide supplies evenly among the group.

  • Weather Watching: A discussion about the weather can lead to graphing temperatures or rainfall, helping children understand data collection and representation. Keeping a weather chart in the classroom can turn this into a daily math exercise, for example, as children think about whether there’s been more rainy or sunny days.

By weaving math into the fabric of daily routines, educators can help children see the usefulness and presence of math in everything they do, fostering a positive and inquisitive approach to the subject.


The Importance of Mathematical Language in Early Education

The introduction and use of mathematical language are crucial in shaping young learners' understanding and perception of math.

The right terminology can demystify concepts and make math more approachable.


Integrating Mathematical Terms in Playful Contexts

Using math-related words during play activities can greatly enhance learning. For example, while playing with building blocks, educators can introduce terms like "taller," "shorter," "above," and "below."

During sorting games, words like "more," "less," "equal," and "different" can be used. This approach helps children connect these terms to real-world objects and actions, making abstract concepts more concrete and understandable.


Language as a Tool for Conceptual Understanding

When reading stories or engaging in group discussions, incorporating math vocabulary like "first," "second," "before," "after," "add," and "subtract" helps children familiarize themselves with these concepts in a narrative context.

Educators can ask questions like, “Which tower is taller?” or “Can you divide these crayons equally among your friends?” These prompts encourage children to apply mathematical thinking to everyday situations.

Educators play a vital role in this process. By consistently using mathematical language in various contexts, they can help children build a strong foundation for mathematical literacy.

This not only aids in their immediate comprehension but also prepares them for more advanced math concepts in the future.


Guidance for Educators: Best Practices in Teaching Math

Effective math education in early childhood requires a blend of strategy, patience, and creativity.

Here are some best practices that educators can adopt to enhance the learning experience.


Overcoming Common Teaching Challenges

Challenges in teaching math can vary, from disinterest to difficulty in grasping concepts. Overcoming these challenges starts with understanding each child's unique learning style.

Using a variety of teaching methods like visual aids, hands-on activities, and storytelling can cater to different learners. Encouraging group activities where children can learn from their peers is also beneficial.

Additionally, breaking down complex concepts into smaller, manageable parts can help make learning less daunting.


Building a Math-Positive Classroom Environment

Creating a positive atmosphere for learning math is crucial. This involves praising effort rather than just correctness to encourage a growth mindset.

Displaying math-related materials and resources around the classroom can spark curiosity and foster a math-friendly environment.

Regularly incorporating math-related games and activities makes math fun and less intimidating. It's also important to connect math to real-life situations to show its relevance and application, making it more meaningful for the children.

By implementing these practices, educators can create a supportive and stimulating environment that encourages young learners to embrace math with enthusiasm and confidence.


Supporting Continued Math Education Beyond the Classroom: Engaging Parents and Community in Math Education

Extending math learning beyond the classroom is vital for reinforcing concepts and creating a holistic educational experience. Here’s how educators can involve parents and the community in a child's math education.


Parental Involvement in Math Activities at Home 

Educators can provide parents with simple activities and games that continue math learning at home.

Suggestions can include counting games, cooking activities involving measurements, or even grocery shopping tasks that involve budgeting and calculation.

Regular communication about the math topics being covered in class can help parents integrate similar concepts at home.


Community Engagement and Real-World Experiences

Field trips to places like the local grocery store, post office, or even a bank can offer real-world math experiences.

Community members can also be invited to share how they use math in their professions.

This not only provides practical examples of math in everyday life but also strengthens the connection between the school and the wider community.


Math Events and Workshops

Organizing math-themed events, like a Math Fair or family math nights, can be a fun way for the whole community to get involved.

Workshops for parents on how to support math learning at home can also be beneficial.

These events provide opportunities for children to showcase their math skills and for parents to learn more about the educational approaches used in the classroom.

By bridging the gap between classroom learning and the outside world, educators can create a more integrated and supportive environment for math education, fostering a lifelong love and understanding of math in young learners.



As we've explored, teaching math through play goes beyond innovation; it's essential in early childhood education.

By intertwining fun and learning, educators can transform math from a daunting subject into an exciting adventure. The key takeaway?

Make math relatable, engaging, and part of everyday experiences. This approach teaches math skills and simultaneously builds a positive attitude towards learning, paving the way for future academic success.

Remember, every playful moment is an opportunity to ignite a child's passion for math, setting them on a path to becoming confident, curious, and capable learners.


Which STEM subjects are of interest to you?

Ensuring your privacy is our priority. By submitting this form, you confirm that you are over the age of 18 and agree to abide by our terms and conditions and privacy policy. Accelerate Learning uses your information to contact you about our relevant content, products, and services. You can opt-out at any time.