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Three Playful Ways to Learn Math: Get Ready for K Through Play


Watch a young child carefully select the largest cookie from the plate, and you will see how intuitive math is from a very young age! Sadly, math in the United States all too frequently becomes a dreaded subject – in no small part because our country has a severe shortage of qualified math teachers.

The good news is, there are some really fun ways to help kids enjoy math! Here are a few of my favorites (links are affiliate links to Amazon):


Get out in nature

I don’t think it’s an accident that every single mathematically talented person I know loves spending time in nature. Nature is the source of life’s most fascinating, beautiful, and complex patterns – like the Fibonacci sequence! When your child plays outside they are getting exercise, vitamin D, and a great start in loving mathematics!

Invest in learning toys

Learning toys traditionally found in classrooms make fantastic toys for homes as well – and they are the perfect way for kids to learn the basics of subtraction, addition, and even multiplication on their own! Here are a few of our favorites – purchased for our family because I loved playing with them as a kid!

Listen to them

Reasoning is an important mathematical skill. Take the time to listen properly to stories your child is telling you. Asking why and how questions will help them learn to expand and justify their ideas.


Get Ready for K Through Play button

This post is the fourth of eight in the Get Ready for K Through Play series I am working on with Bernadette of Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas, Megan at Coffee Cups and Crayons, Vicky at Mess for Less, Cerys at Rainy Day Mum, and Kristina at Toddler Approved. Be sure to check out their posts as well!

Drop by our Get Ready for K Through Play Pinterest board for more ideas!

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

28 thoughts on “Three Playful Ways to Learn Math: Get Ready for K Through Play”

  1. I love your list MaryAnne – we have a lot of fun with nature and pattern blocks. I’ve just recently bought cuisenaire rods but we haven’t taken them out yet – now I want a bucket balance!!

  2. I keep meaning to get some kind of balance scale, if only I had a place to put it!

    For as hands on and wonderful as our school is, there is too much drilling in math, and Rebecca hates it. I don’t know what to do about that unfortunately.

    One of our math activities is counting and dividing up allowance into short term saving/long term saving/giving/spending.

  3. I really like your list of learning math toys!
    My son likes counting money. I do try and point out and explain math concepts if they come up. Multiplication is a good example. I remember my mother did this with me and it gave me a lot of math confidence in school.

  4. As you know, I love math – this is one subject I could easily teach at home. I like logic in math, so we used Lollipop Logic and other beginning logic books when Anna was younger.

  5. Have you ever gotten the Three Bears Family game? You’re trying to get all 3 bears back home to the cave. It’s really cute.

  6. Elisa | blissfulE

    I love how you pointed out that mathematically-talented people love spending time in nature. Very true, but I had never thought of that connection before!

  7. Thanks for reminding me of useful tools that we had in our classrooms as children that I think J will absolutely love (he just loves math). I don’t think I ever knew the technical term for the perimeter blocks, and I just love that kids find multiple uses for a toy/teaching resource. I’m so excited about the math course to learn different ways I can teach math to my kid(s).

    1. I signed up for the math course, too – it looks fantastic! I met Jo Boaler when I was working on my Masters degree, and I know the people who took classes from her LOVED her.

  8. Great ideas for playing with math concepts! I think I just focused on counting up to 100 before Kindergarten and counting by 10s. We used Chicka Chicka 1 2 3 for that. There are numbers on the back covers to play around with.

  9. Pattern blocks are awesome! We use them all the time – in all kinds of different capacities.

    They really help Hadyn understand the lessons. Plus, they are interactive and fun. He does enjoy making puzzles and figuring things out.

    Thanks for this post!

  10. Jeanette Nyberg

    I love those pattern blocks- they look like something you could do a ton with. Bookmarking the math course link, too!

  11. I hated math. Didn’t understand adding & subtracting fractions until my math for kids class in graduate school. Cuisinaire rods are great. You can use them for years on so many levels.

  12. Thank you for the link to the Stanford course; I’ve bookmarked it because it looks like something I’d want to check out.

    In addition to poor math skills, I think we also need to get over the “I’m not a math person” ridiculousness that I hear often. I was one of those who grew up believing that I wasn’t a math person, but truly, anyone can get an A in math if they believe they can. I already had such a barrier with my negative self talk that it perpetuated itself. Now, I love numbers :)

    1. The “not a math person” is exactly what the Stanford course is working to prevent. I signed up, because I think it has some great information for parents, and it doesn’t look like a big time commitment.

  13. I think I most enjoyed math through rhythm, when a child– like with traditional rhymes (1,2, buckle my shoe, etc.) Didn’t think much about math in nature, but you’re right– there are some really interesting patterns. Our favorite math manipulative is the abacus (100 beads, in rows of 10; or a homemade variety for just making one row of 10). Here’s a picture of an abacus I made from a wire hanger: http://www.gentleshepherdweavings.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-preschool-big-bead-abacus.html

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