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Early maths skills

Children at this age love to investigate, explore and experience things. They’re active learners and learn best when interacting with you and the world around them using all their senses. They love positive feedback and enjoy achievements. They’ll be creating and thinking critically, making links between ideas, and developing strategies for doing things.

Here are some ideas for things you can do at home:

  • Stories and books are a great way to develop maths skills. Find out which books can help your child with which maths skill on the Maths Through Stories website.
  • Playing shops: Decide what type of shop you want to create and then collect as many different things for the shop as possible. For example, empty food boxes or you could make any type of shop, including a toy shop, post office or supermarket. This will all involve different areas of maths. Ask your child to help you label each item with its name and a price. Use a tub or a box as a cash register or card reader and try to use real coins, as it’s good for children to get used to handling real money.
  • Cooking together is a great way for children to learn and have fun as it involves a lot of learning activities such as planning, estimating, measuring and timing, as well as handling the ingredients and cooking utensils.
  • Junk modelling: Use different old boxes and containers to make models of things that your child is interested in. Talk about the different shape and size of the boxes being used and look at how they fit together or make patterns.
  • Building shelters and dens: Give your child boxes and sheets and plan a den together at home. You can get them to think about location, materials, size and shape.
  • Playing games: There are lots of different games that you can play which help children to develop their maths skills. These include counting, matching and sorting games and games your child can play online. You can find these on the Family Maths Toolkit and BBC CBeebies websites.

How to help your child with:

Learning to count: One of the first number skills your child will learn is counting. At first children will just be able to repeat the number names in the right order. They will then move on to matching the number name and symbol to an amount. It can help to count things when you’re out and about with your child.

For example:

  • How many buses have we seen?
  • How many birds are in the garden?
  • How many lamp posts are on the street?

Recognising and forming number symbols: Point out numbers in everyday life such as on front doors, telephones, clocks, money and pages of books. Match the number name to the number symbol. Practice making the number shapes in sand, shaving foam and with a wide variety of mark making toys.

One-to-one correspondence: Help your child to match a number name to an object in order to find out how many. Children start by touching the object whilst saying one, touching the next object and saying two and so on. A simple daily routine to practice one-to-one correspondence is counting as you climb the stairs.

Maths puzzles and problem solving: Problems are things your child does not yet know how to solve, but with your help they will find an answer. Think about asking questions such as ‘how could you’, ‘what do you think’ and ‘shall we try’. If you tell your child what to do, they’re not problem solving themselves. Remember there maybe more than one answer or more than one way of doing things.

Problems can be created with everyday objects, through familiar routines or through stories and role play with toys. For example you could ask, “What’s the biggest tower you can make with the pans?”, “How many apples should we buy?” or “How can we get the enormous turnip out of the ground?”

There are more ideas and fun activities to help your child develop early maths skills on the CBeebies website.