{Some Simple Preschool Math Play Ideas}

Playful preschool math ideas cover image

Princess Pea has decided that now that she's four she wants to learn all her letters and numbers. ("Because that's what four-year-olds do".)

So, we've devised a few fun, play-focused activities to help her with some basic math skills at home.

counting pom poms for preschool math play

Counting Objects:

Egg carton math. Each egg compartment is numbered (1-10, eggs come in packs of 10 here, not 12). She counts out the correct number of pompoms to place in each labelled compartment. Although she can rote count to 10 easily, she has a harder time with one-to-one correspondance when counting objects (i.e., she double counts some items, or skips some others because she's counting too fast, etc.). This is a good activity to practice that correspondance (which is also an important early literacy skill, by the way), and she thinks it's so fun!

You could also use beans or any other small object, and you could mix things up by using tongs instead of fingers to place the items in. Good fine motor skill practice, too. We used teeny-tiny pompoms, which also gave her fine motor practice.

Later I plan to use them differently, for example, using them like a number line to count up and back. E.g., "Start at 4 and count up 3. Where do you end up?" etc.; and for simple addition, e.g., "Take the pompoms from 2 and 3 and add them together. How many do you have now?"


A dinner-time 'math game' she's started playing lately with Daddy is a sort of number quiz game. Very simple. Daddy asks, "What number comes after 4?" or "What number is before 5?". Then he changes the wording slightly to, "What's one more than 6?" or "What's one less than 3?", which begins to introduce the terms "more" and "less" that will be important for math in school. Then he makes it more challenging with, "What's 2 more than 2?" or "What's 3 and 2 more?", etc.. Princess Pea loves this game! Sometimes she comes up with the answers instantly in her head, and other times she counts her fingers. We played it in the shower the other day and she was so engrossed in the game that she almost didn't even notice I was washing her hair! Bonus! ;-)

Comparing Numbers:

Another game we introduced to her recently is "Top-It". For this you need a deck of cards. (We got a free pack from Lufthansa in their kids' goodies - very convenient for airplane distractions! And perfect because you don't need a full deck to play this game, so if some get lost between the seats it's no biggie!) Remove the face cards. Two or more people can play this. Each person turns over a card. The person with the higher number wins the cards. Princess Pea can't read most of the numbers yet, but she can count the hearts or whatever are on them when she needs to. This is also good practice for counting numbers at a glance (e.g., looking at the picture of 4 hearts and instantly knowing there are four without counting them out), and for beginning to learn to 'read' the number digits.

Also, see my post about our Magnetic Fishing game. We all love that game as it's so versatile for children of different ages/skill levels, so both girls can play it together and each enjoy it.


We have also been making pattern strings. See my post on our Pool Noodle pattern strings. You can use anything to practice making patterns. Foam shapes (circle, square, circle, square...), coloured pompoms (red, blue, blue, red, blue, blue...), toy cars (car, car, truck, truck...), or ink stamps (butterfly, airplane, flower, butterfly, airplane, flower...) etc. Try making different kinds of patterns, gradually increasing their complexity as suits your child.

We've been having fun with these play ideas, but I would never, ever recommend pushing them on your children. If Princess Pea initiates the play or discussion, we do it. Otherwise, we leave her to play whatever she likes. Kids are only kids for a very short time. I'm in no rush to have my little peas grow up!