Simple Math Activities for Preschoolers – Teaching Math Through Play

One day, my young daughter was in her car seat in the back seat of the car when she asked “Mommy, how much is 198 and 27?” I glanced in the rear view mirror to make sure it was my preschool daughter asking this question. I had been asking her these types of math questions while playing. Little did I realize how much I had been teaching math through play!

I have to admit, I had to take a few minutes to calculate this in my head while driving. I asked her what she thought it was, and she quickly came back with the answer before I had time to calculate. My daughter was not a child prodigy, but through many math activities for preschoolers, she had been learning math concepts without even trying!

You may be wondering…

  • What are some math activities for preschoolers?
  • How do you teach math to a preschooler?
  • What math activities are appropriate for a preschooler?
  • What are some math activities for 3 year olds?

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Why Should You Teach Math Through Play for Preschoolers

Teaching math through play is one of the easiest ways to integrate math concepts, language, and vocabulary into your child’s learning without them realizing they are learning. A young child learns thousands of things every day. They are learning vocabulary, facts, voice inflections, and more, all while playing and interacting with the world around them.

Whether you are looking for math activities for 3 year olds, math activities for 3-5 year olds, or math activities for kindergarten and beyond, these ideas will spark expandable opportunities to learn and grow with your child – all while playing.

If you’d like to learn more about play-based learning, You can read more here:  Learning through Play – Capturing Teachable Moments with Young Children.



    Simple Ways to Include Math Activities for Preschoolers

    Here is a big list of math activities for parents to do at home. These activities are easy to incorporate into your play-time and the only limit, is your child’s interest and your creativity.

    • Use math words when you are playing games.  “If I have two Uno cards and I have to draw 4 more, how many cards do I have in all.”  “If I give you four carrots and you eat one, how many carrots do you have left?”
    • Create math word stories when you and your children are playing with toys.  Encourage them to count, add, subtract, and notice groups and patterns.  “How many blue cars do you have?  How many red cars?  Do you have more yellow cars?”
    • Counting and skip counting.  Count the steps from one place to another.  Skip count when jumping rope “2, 4, 6, 8,” etc.  Memorizing skip counting through music – counting by a specific number such as 3.  For example 3, 6, 9, 12, etc.   This will give your child a huge head start on multiplication and division without even realizing that’s what they are doing.
    • Measure things around the house.  Compare heights and lengths when you are building with blocks, or Legos.  Measure things with your hands, with a ruler, with a little car.  Talk about the difference between two things.  “Which one is bigger or longer?  Which one is shorter or smaller? Which car is faster?  Which stack of Legos is taller?” etc.

    You can begin using these math activities for 3-5 year olds as soon as your child is old enough to understand what you are asking. They may not know the specific words, but they love to mimic the things they see around them. Don’t be afraid to invite your child to play-act the things they observe you doing.

    • Play store.  Open up the pantry door and give your child some stickers.  Add “price tags” to the cans and boxes and then open up your store for customers.  If your child doesn’t have play money, cut some strips of paper to resemble the dollars.  You probably have a “credit card” from some junk mail offer that they can also use to play with.  You may want to start without the credit card option so you can practice giving money and getting change back with your child.  Take turns being the shopper, the storekeeper, cashier, and stocker.  TIP:  This is a great way to get help with putting your groceries away after shopping!
    • Menu planning.  As your children get older, they can help with planning a menu and going shopping.  Teach them the foods in the different food groups when you are planning a menu together.  “What kind of vegetable are we going to have with our potatoes?”
    • Use grocery ads to help them put together a budget for the meal and then actually go shopping.  Coupons are a great way to add subtraction into your math lessons as well.
    • Set the table.  An important part of math is learning left and right.  Your child will need this for creating graphs, following a map, tracking, and charting in math.  Fork on the left, spoon, and knife on the right of the plate.  (Fork and left have 4 letters, spoon, knife, and right have 5 letters.)

    Many math activities for 3 years olds can be stretched and expanded upon to grow with your child. Those basic terms, vocabulary words, and concepts will grow as your child learns more. Just as math in a textbook progresses, your child will learn more as you integrate math conversations into your play-time.

    • Calendars.  Encourage your child to help you use a calendar to count days until an event, practice days of the week, months of the year, and recording family events and special days.
    • Sorting.  This is a concept that is easily adaptable to many playtime activities.  Encourage sorting by color, size, smallest to largest, shape, etc.  This helps children with patterns, identifying the size, color, and shape.  They may come up with their own categories to sort things into.
    • Encourage your child to make predictions.  “Do you think there are more red cars or blue cars?  Why?”  “is your teddy bear longer than the dog or shorter?”  Count and compare your answer to the prediction.
    • String beads or buttons on a pipe cleaner, shoelace, or string.  Talk about patterns in colors, shapes, and sizes.  This also encourages fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.  Look at patterns and change them up.  “Can you put one red button, two blue buttons, and then three yellow buttons on the string?  What will come next?”

    Take advantage of your child’s natural interest in life around them. Use these opportunities to explore and learn. You don’t always have to plan math activities for preschool children, you just need to watch for opportunities to layer the learning into the conversation and play.

    • Use a magnifying glass and look at things up close.  Insects, bark, grass, flower petals, etc.  Look for the repeating patterns and symmetry of a leaf, a blade of grass, a feather, or flower petals.
    • Look for shapes in nature.  Triangle-shaped fern leaves, round flower petals, oval wasp nests, etc.
    • Go on a nature scavenger hunt with your child and collect things to make a craft.  Collect things that are different colors, or textures.
    • Measure the rain with a rain gauge.  Measure the snow depth.
    • Keep track of the weather and note it on a calendar.  Help your child identify the seasons and what is different and what is the same about each season.  Use this information to create a chart of how many days of sunshine vs. rain in a week or a month.  You can also use this information to build word problems such as “in the last seven days, how many days had rain?”
    • Plant seeds and watch them sprout.  Use graph paper and map your garden area.  Look at the seed packets and determine how close or far apart your plants need to be.  (Peas and radishes are great to plant and watch them grow because they sprout and grow quickly.)
    • Involve your child with cooking and baking.  Talk about heat, measurements, liquids, solids, and how they react to heat and cold.   Double a recipe and use those fraction-adding skills. Make half a batch of cookies and practice dividing the fractions.  Teach your child to slice bread, cut a pizza, divide out the cookies, pour the juice and encourage them to explore quantities and fractions.


      Math Activities for Parents to do at Home

      Another great way to include math activities for 3-5 year olds or older children as well, is to play games and do puzzles together. Whether your child is 3 or 13, they will probably still enjoy playing games with you if you build that relationship-building time when they are young.

      • Lauri puzzles – these are THE best puzzles! (hand-eye coordination, predicting, matching)
      • Tray puzzles (hand-eye coordination, predicting, matching)
      • Puzzle books (predicting, matching, fine-motor skills, thinking, and logic)
      • What’s Different books (comparing/contrasting, matching/different)
      • Brain teasers (predicting, thinking and logic)
      • Shape Blocks (shapes, colors, magnets, patterns)
      • Tangrams (patterns, predicting, shapes, colors, matching)
      • Tracing shapes (fine motor skills, holding a pencil, creating a larger picture from smaller shapes)
      • Playdough (hand-eye coordination, creating, imagination, story-telling, fractions, addition, subtraction)

      You may already be doing some of these math activities for preschoolers with your child and that is wonderful!  Your child is on the road to success because you are looking for ways to encourage their learning.  I’m proud of you!  Write down a few new ideas and add to them each week.

      Enjoy the journey of teaching your child new things and setting them up for success!  Enjoy teaching math through play with some of these math activities for parents to do at home.

      If you know a mom who would like these ideas, please share this with her.  Thanks for Pinning it for later and sharing it on Facebook!

      Additional Reading…

      Learning through Play – Capturing Teachable Moments with Young Children

      Preschool Reading Activities to Build Early Literacy Skills

      Simple Tips for Sitting with a Young Child in Church

      Getting ready for the first day of Preschool

      Parent Interview Questions You Should Ask When Choosing a Preschool

      5 Things You Should do with Your Child Everyday!

      Simple Ways to Encourage Your Child’s Curiosity Through Nature

      55 Replies to “Simple Math Activities for Preschoolers – Teaching Math Through Play”

      1. My six year old loves making calendars and charts for everyone else. I love how she plays with numbers like that! Some of those spot the differences books would be popular here I think. Great Christmas ideas!

        • My girls always loved the learning gifts the most because they were things we used together as a family to play and share. I love that your daughter loves charts and calendars. Sounds like she’s on the way to being an organized little girl! 🙂

      2. SO many amazing ideas!!! My little one is still young but I want to make sure that I’m helping her learn and develop as much as I can! Thanks so much for sharing!

      3. Great ideas! Sometimes as a new mom, I wonder what the heck my son is learning from me in the day to day but the crazy thing is that there are teachable moments hidden in everything we do!

      4. I love the idea of incorporating math lessons into the natural world because, after all, the whole point of math is to describe/explain/manipulate the real world. Such an important thing to remember when teaching kids.

      5. Yes! Those fun little teaching moments are so important and lay the foundation for future learning! Play is crucial for kids, and I appreciate how you integrated play throughout each section. Great post!

      6. These are great ideas! I used to count while I spun my kiddo in a chair, and when it was about time to leave the park I would tell him “you can have 20 more swings on the swing” and we would count to 20 as we swung.

      7. I love your idea for playing store with your pantry! What a fun game and a great way to teach kids about money. My kids help me plan our weekly menu, but I hadn’t thought to have them involved in the budgeting process. Lots of great ideas here that will be fun to share with my kids!

      8. Oh I love this! What a helpful post. I homeschool and am always looking for fun learning activities for my kids. Worksheets can get so boring. Thanks for this!

      9. I did so many of these things with my kids. I homeschooled them and also had a master’s degree in math. I knew the importance of getting their brains to think mathematically and scientifically from the start. There are so many teachable, learnable moments.

        • Yes, so many of the math words are easy to teach our children when they are young and it helps them be prepared for the more complex problems just because they already know the right language.

      10. Teachable moments can be found anywhere! When my children were younger we would do the counting with jump rope, or the jingle, “2, 4, 6, 8, who do you appreciate”

      11. Thanks for the great suggestions! I try to include the kids while in the kitchen and we love to do word search puzzles another word brain games.

      12. I love all of these. Sometimes when you are exhausted, it’s hard to think about easy things we can do to continue helping our children grow. Thank you for this list to help on those days!

      13. This is fantastic. I do alot of these with my kids, but it’s because my mom did most of these with us. These all seem Montessori based.

      14. I love how you added using math words to your list. I think this is SO important and easy to do if you try. Just talk about math with your kids and it is amazing what they will learn. Thanks for the list!

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