Category Archives: Numbers

Playground Maths

This is my kind of maths lesson.  I have honestly never enjoyed doing anything remotely relating to numbers with the children – even playing shop is spoilt for me when we start talking about giving change and adding up cost.  It feels wrong that I feel like this – but I just hate maths.

We all went to the park today, and this is what we did:

We estimated who was the heaviest, the lightest, whether two of us could be lighter than one of us (ahem!) and used the see-saw to test our theory.  N was very good at this, but using the see-saw really seemed to help L to catch on.

We discovered that L and N are almost the same weight, but L very slightly heavier.


We discovered that F is the lightest of all of us


We found out that L and N together are lighter than Mummy (well, they only weigh about 2 stone each!), and that N and F together weigh more than L.  We tried to guess whether Daddy would be heavier than Mummy and I was relieved he wasn’t there to find out!  We also discovered that N’s toy doggy is lighter than all people, even babies.

We looked at the tall slide, and tried to decide how many times taller than Mummy it was, how many times taller than L, how many times taller than N.  We think Mummy is about 2 N’s tall!

The 3L's high slide

The 3L’s high slide

We tried to guess which of us would be able to fit under the little slide without banging our heads.  N could, L couldn’t without bending his knees, and Mummy had to bend in half!

The 1N tall bridge

The 1N tall bridge

We estimated how many steps it would take to get across the bridge, the tested it out.


And we tested whether we were quicker sliding down the slide if we lifted our feet – some materials are more slidy than others, we decided.


We played on the swings, with an extra bit of maths – “I’m going to give three children nine pushes, how many pushes each?”


We played hide and seek, and added in a few number games – “if we have six turns left before we go, how many turns can we have each?” – “If L has had 5 turns, and N has had 3 turns, how many does N need to make it fair” – and so on.

And, as if they knew what we came here for, a number puzzle was provided for us to finish up with – which L and N volunteered to work out, and even asked for more sums!



Can We Fix It?

Here is a fun activity that passed a rainy Sunday afternoon for all of us – it was the most popular activity we have done for a while, and kept L and N occupied for well over an hour, which is amazing considering their concentration hasn’t been brilliant recently.  What we did was a simplified version of the “Fixing Station” from Teach Preschool.

They love to mend things, and play with a tool set, and also love building things with cardboard, so this activity was perfect for them.  We called it “can we fix it?”.


I cut paper plates of different shapes and sizes into pieces – some big, some small, some just in two, some into lots of tiny pieces.  I put them all in the middle of the table and told L and N there had been an accident in my kitchen, and all my plates were broken, and that I need their help to mend them.  They caught on to the game right away and were full of enthusiasm.


They enjoyed finding the right pieces to fit together, and found this easier than expected – next time I might try some 3D “mending” of boxes and cardboard tubes for an added challenge.

I had supplied them with lots of materials to mend the plates with – tape and scissors (this was insulating tape in different colours for added interest, from the pound shop), glue sticks, PVA and paperclips – to allow them to experiment with which worked best.

L went straight for the tape – and used it very effectively.  He quickly worked out that the best way to make it a strong join was to use several pieces of tape across the join, rather than one running lengthways.  He then decided he wanted to cover a whole plate in tape, and was very methodical about it, measuring lengths and cutting appropriately.


N experimented with the glues, and overlapped the pieces to join together effectively.  She found it more challenging to use the tape, but by the end she managed to use it very effectively, and got in some good practice at using scissors too.


There was some great maths going on here (shape and space), as well as problem-solving skills and fine motor skills.  It also allowed them to experiment with and practise using different materials for construction and craft.  they also got a great sense of achievement from completing the task and solving the problem.  I absolutely loved this activity and we will definitely be doing more mending activities!

Maths is Fun (honest!)

My relationship with maths goes something like this:

  1. Commit material to memory
  2. Obtain good grade in exam
  3. Release material from memory.

I find maths, quite frankly, boring.  And what’s more, I’m not very good at it.  I am the person who can’t work out my change from a fiver without counting on fingers, the person who rounds to the nearest ten, and the person who does not know and has never known her times tables.  This is the reason why our reading, writing, and creative activities vastly outweigh our number games.  I find maths so intrinsically, terminally dull that I struggle to think up exciting or engaging activities.

I could of course leave it to the school, but guilt niggles away at me – what if I had a gifted mathematician amongst my children, whose potential is wilting, neglected?  But more than that, I don’t want to pass my own maths-loathing on to my children, I want them to be rounded people, I want to convince them that maths is fun (because I know there are people out there who find numbers, patterns, shapes etc fascinating).  And since maths doesn’t exist on its own in a little bubble, but is part of the world, I imagine it’s a necessary tool for accessing and appreciating all kinds of other things I’d like my children to enjoy (I’m no good at music either – that’s another story)…

So, on Sunday morning we played number games, and I felt virtuous for it, rather like I do if I clean out the bottom of the fridge or empty the nappy bin.  I think little and often is the answer, and incorporating counting into our lives when possible.

We started by writing some simple addition sums (numbers less then ten) onto card.  We also had a + and an = symbol written on cards, some blank sheets of card, and two different colours of pasta spirals.

We set out our cards like this, and our sum cards in a pile:

L (5) and N(3) took turns at choosing a sum card.  N counted out the right number of pasta shapes onto the first two cards, and L worked out the total.

N carefully counting her pasta

L, carefully calculating

A number sentence

We used two different colours so that the children could see the total comprised of the two smaller quantities together, and hopefully get the concept of addition (N), and start to think about number patterns (L).

Two orange, and four green, makes six altogether.

L could do this quite easily, and spent some time making number sentences on his own.  N enjoyed counting at first but it didn’t hold her attention for long, and so she busied herself with this:

Home made number tray, using a baking tray and number stickers

This is a really simple but effective idea, N will spend quite a long time putting the right number of pasta shapes, beads, or anything really, into the right compartments.  We started this to get her used to the idea of numbers representing an amount, which she clearly understands now, and it has also helped her to count properly and carefully rather than “onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten” regardless of the actual quantity, which is what she did before we made the tray.

Whilst L and I moved on to Number Bonds.  This isn’t my idea.  A primary school teacher I know told me, “if you don’t teach them anything else, they need to know number bonds to ten”.  I’m told it is the basis of decimals, counting money, and probably other useful things.

We started with our cards, picking out the sums that made ten, and decided to find out how many different ways we could make ten.  L made the number sentences for these sums, and then we threaded the “answers” onto scooby strings, to make number bond necklaces we can get out and play with again and again, to remind us of the number bonds.  I’m quite pleased with the visual representation of the number bonds, the fact that it is easy to see that all of these add up to the same total, and the way we can slide the pasta beads along the string to count.

Number Bond necklaces

L and N always enjoy a threading activity, and N could join in this bit which she was pleased about.  L wasn’t bothered by the girly necklace idea but for boys who would be these could easily be number bond snakes!

My next idea is to play a version of pairs, where we look for the numbers that make ten.

I almost want to apologise for such a dull activity, but hope it is only dull to me.  The children didn’t seem to mind, and I think it was worthwhile in helping them to play with numbers and see the patterns.