Helping your child with early maths

Many dislike maths, but it’s an important tool. Emma McKinney discusses ways to teach kids maths through everyday activities

Many people think that maths only involves school-based sums and algebra. Not everyone finds maths easy and sometimes we pass on our anxieties to our children. Maths is important for more than just passing exams. We need it for so many daily activities from paying for shopping, estimating how long a trip takes to get home to planning what we are to do each day and in what order. Here are some fun activities that help with developing early maths skills.

Counting cars

This game teaches basic addition and classifying. It can be played when driving your child to school or accompanying them in a taxi. Let the child decide what colour or make of car they would like to count. For example, they could count red cars or Toyota cars. Each time they see one, they need to count it and add them up. After five minutes, you can see who has the most cars.

Washing up

Teach your child estimation, classifying and counting while doing the dishes! After washing the dishes, talk about the different utensils that they see. Ask them to guess how many spoons, knives or forks they see. Don’t count these items, rather take a quick look and estimate how many of each they think there are. You can jot these estimations down. Then let your child sort the cutlery into categories (for example, group all the spoons together). After they categorised the items, ask the child to physically count each one (get them to move each item as they count). Get the child to see how close was their estimation.

Soccer counting

Teach basic addition through soccer! Set up an informal goal outside and find a football. Invite a few children to play. Get the children to count how many times they can kick the ball into the goal.

House numbers

Teach your child to count in twos, odd and even numbers. As you walk or drive down a road, read out the house numbers. Show your child that on one side of the road, the houses will have even numbers (12; 14; 16), while on the other side of the road, the houses will have odd numbers (13; 15; 17). Explain that they are counting in twos and, depending on the age and ability of your child, you can start introducing two-times table (1×2=2; 2×2=4).Ask your child to try guess what number will come next, and what house number you have already passed.

Making a meal

When cooking, teach your child about sorting and sequencing. Find an old newspaper, magazine or shopping catalogue or advertisement. Get your child to carefully look through the pictures and select a meal that they would like to make. Have them to find the ingredients that they would need to make their meal (for example, image of flour, sugar, salt, oil and water to make a loaf of bread).

Let them cut or tear out these images and lay them out in. Using the pictures they have selected, chat about in what order they need to mix or cook the ingredients. (For example, to make bread, first I have to mix the flour, salt and sugar together. Then I need to slowly add the water and oil and stir it.) This will help your child to learn basic sequencing.

Think of other fun activities and games that you could do with your child using materials that you have around you (for example, recycling, stones, seed pods). Find items that you child likes and use these in your activities (for example, cars, books). Use words and ask questions involving maths words like “more and less;” “bigger and smaller;” “faster and slower;” “lighter and heavier”.

Dr Emma McKinney is a lecturer at the University of the Western Cape. She is also the owner of Disability Included, a company specialising in disability research, children, and employment of adults with disabilities. email:

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