If you always thought that mathematics only revolved around numbers, think again! “There is a myriad of concepts that can help to prepare your child for school related mathematics,” says Liz Senior, Founder of Clamber Club and Occupational Therapist.

“Pre-arithmetic readiness includes memory and sequencing abilities, the ability to understand shape, form and volume,” explains Liz. “It requires the child’s understanding of size, position, length and quantity,” she adds.

Montessori found that learning about numbers requires 3 stages:

  1. The ability to sort objects into sets. Before your child can identify for example, 3 cars as being part of the same `set’, he needs to understand why they belong together. To do this, he needs to recognise the properties that cars have in common.
  2. The ability to match or pair one set of objects with another set. For example, there is one bead in this set and one shell in that set. Give the child another bead and another shell and see if he can match them together with the first set into pairs. This means that he will have 2 beads, and two shells.
  3. The ability to compare. A child needs to understand that two stones are less than 3 stones, and that 4 stones are greater than 3. Once he can do this, he can put things in an `order’.

Liz shares with us a few activities that will give you some ideas of `mathematic fun’ on a daily basis. Use them as the opportunity arises, remembering where possible to talk about what you are doing, as the physical experience and the verbal reinforcement can help to consolidate many basic concepts. As you go, provide your child with opportunities to touch things, move them around, compare them, to climb over, through, under and on top. Allow and encourage him to experiment!


  • Rhymes such as “1, 2 buckle my shoe,” or “12345 once I caught a fish alive” can be sung with your child even before he has a concept of the words. This verbalisation helps your child to memorise the names of numbers, particularly those from one to ten.
  • Songs, finger exercises and rhymes with rhythmical number verbalisations all help to establish basic `rote’ counting and provide an introduction to numbers. Gradually your child will learn to count objects and understand the meaning of two or three.


  • When you talk to your child, include quantity in your conversation – He has “lots” of books, and I have only a “few.” He has “more” hair than you have. You have “less than”
  • Put different amounts of cereal in two bowls. Discuss which one has the most cereal and which one has the least. Which one would he prefer?

Position and sequence

  • When walking around together, try walking in a row. Who is in front, who is in the middle and who is last? Who is behind who? Swop positions and encourage your child to say where he is – in the middle, at the back or in the front. This game, once played on a physical level, can also be played using dollies and teddies or building blocks
  • Understanding position and sequence is essential to understanding numbers and mathematics. For example, which number comes before number 5? or which number comes after seven?


  • Take out some playdough and make roly poly worms together. Make long worms and short worms. Which worm is the longest and which is the shortest?
  • Look in the mirror together and compare heights. Who is the tallest, who is the shortest?


  • Collect some cardboard boxes – shoe boxes, apple boxes, fridge boxes, and cereal boxes. Ask your child to put objects in the biggest box, the smallest box. See how many objects do you have to put in the box until it is full. Which box can he fit into? For the older child, put boxes in a row from biggest to smallest.
  • Mix beads together of different size. Show your child how to sort the beads by size into different containers. Start off with only 2 sizes and then add as your child becomes more adept. (The ability to sort into sets is a basic mathematic requirement)


  • Shapes described in mathematical terms are everywhere. Diameters, circumferences, to the square of, measurement of space – all relate to shape. Look out for square and rectangular boxes (cereal boxes, tea boxes, shoe boxes) circles (bowls, bottles, balls) and triangles (Toblerone chocolate!) Point them out to your child, discuss the shapes. Go on a shape hunt in the kitchen.
  • Put some containers with different shape and size lids out for your child to match.


  • Look for heavy and light objects to experiment with. A bag of stones can be heavy, and you need to be strong to carry them. A balloon is light and can be hit up in the air.
  • Explore the same concept in the bath with floating objects and sinking objects. Which object is the heaviest and which the lightest? Guess which one will float or sink.


  • Put some Tupperware containers into the sandpit to play with. Make some full of sand and leave some empty. How much sand will fit in the bucket until it is full?
  • The same concept can be used in many ways. Your cup is full and now that you’ve drunk the water it’s empty. Show your child how to pack things in and out of boxes.


  • Baking activities are wonderful for describing many of these concepts! Squash the dough until you have a thin layer or make a thick layer instead. Make thick biscuits and thin biscuits, big biscuits and small biscuits – and of course, count the biscuits!
  • Cut a thick slice of bread and a thin slice of bread, look at a thick book that has many pages or a thin book. Discuss the thickest and the thinnest.


  • Use the idea of fractions in your daily activities. Cut the bread in half, or into quarters. Shapes of course can also be brought into it. Cut the bread into triangles, diamonds, or squares.
  • Share a biscuit. “You can have half of my biscuit.” “Look it is broken in half, now there are 2 pieces.” “If we put it together again, it becomes one piece again.”

More ideas for maths / did you know?

  1. Simple form boards or jigsaw puzzles give the experience of different shapes fitting together.
  2. Matching socks or other objects can teach your child the notion of a one to one correspondence.
  3. Sorting is central to maths. Sort and match as you tidy toys away, return cups to saucers, sort out the washing – mum’s clothes, baby’s clothes, dad’s clothes, or shirts, trousers etc.
  4. Learning to cook can provide an early introduction to both maths and science, as your child will begin to understand weights and measurements, the effects of beating ingredients, mixing solids and liquids and heating mixtures.

Contributed by Liz Senior, Clamber Club CEO and Occupational Therapist