Numeracy skills are obviously a very important part of any child’s education, and this mathematical learning can easily begin before a child even begins attending school. Any type of play provides an opportunity to incorporate numeracy skills and ideas, and we all know children learn faster and easier when they’re having fun!
Take any opportunity you can to utilise play as a vehicle for building numeracy skills with a child of any age to encourage them in their learning and developing of maths skills. Numeracy skills are always relevant, and will be useful at every stage in their future. Although adults don’t have to be playing along, play is likely to become more complex and more conducive to learning with an adult present and interacting, rather than just observing. Try posing ‘what if’ questions, and ask about the reasoning behind the choices they’re making.
Learning through play also offers the additional benefit of gaining social skills and knowledge when a child plays with someone more skilled or advanced. Techniques and strategies can be shared for tackling the problem at hand, as well as learning valuable lessons in listening and sharing. It is also true that a playful and engaged attitude witnessed in others is likely to be imitated by children, so make sure you’re excited about learning numeracy skills so that your child can be too!
With imaginative play, children can also draw on past experiences in order to consolidate new information and skills they’re working on. Their imagination is engaged, and there’s also genuine learning occurring. This type of play also opens up new possibilities to children, and helps them to use these new skills to create meaning. The knowledge they’re building fits neatly into their experiences and their imaginations, allowing them to take these new numeracy skills on board for life and keep learning.
To get started with building numeracy skills through play, MathLink Cubes or Three Bear Family Counters can prove invaluable. They might even look familiar from your own days in the classroom because these tools have proven useful again and again to so many children. To bring them into learning play, consider building shapes or contrasting lengths of different coloured blocks, or organising the bears by colour or size. Ask about what will happen if you add one more, or ask why a child has chosen to organise the counters a certain way. These can also be useful tools in learning to count and with learning colours.
Mini Muffin Match Up is a game that encourages learning math skills for children aged 3 and up through play. Children will have fun while developing all sorts of early math skills like matching, sorting and counting, as well as using dice to play. There’s also room for group learning and game play if you’re not quite sure how to get involved in educational play.
For children beginning to learn math skills in school, games like Magic Maths and I Sea 10! keep it fun while still developing these important numeracy skills. These games also engage children’s other interests like magic, animals, and ocean life. Both are games suited for 2-4 players, which provides plenty of opportunity for interaction between players with different skill levels. Magic Maths brings plenty of giggles with its gross spell ingredients, while I Sea 10! incorporates chance and encourages children to do addition problems as fast as they can. They’re certainly educational, but they’re also very fun games to play.
All play can be educational, and there are simple ways to include building on numeracy skills into play activities, particularly with the handy tools we provide at Go Go Kids Remuera. Keep learning, but most importantly keep having lots of fun!
Play and Mathematics by Bob Perry and Sue Dockett, Charles Sturt University, published by the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers Inc., 2007.