Using play for number skills

Here at The Toadstool HQ, we are passionate about play, and keen to help spread the word of how invaluable learning through play is for children. Each time your child picks up a toy, or expresses an interest in toys around them, they are seeking to make sense of the world around them. This starts at a very young age, and there are lots of ways that parents and carers can help to nurture this. This week, we’re looking at ways of using play for number skills and we’ll be looking at ways to incorporate learning into part of your every day routine too.

Plan-Toys-using play for number


When children learn to count, it is as a pattern of words rather than actual counting of objects. So your two year old may well be able to repeat 1,2,3… and so on, without any real concept of counting. This is fantastic! Some ways that you can help to encourage this repetition include:

  • counting bricks as you build a tower.
  • pointing out numbers around you- on house doors, car number plates, books, etc. Always say the number name when you point to the digit too.
  • counting toes and fingers at bath time.

Slightly older children, from around the age of three onwards, should be able to recognise and count to at least 5 (or even 10) with the help of objects and toys. When you build a tower, talk about how many bricks you need, and count them out into a pile before you start. Encourage your child to repeat the counting, pointing to or physically picking up each brick as you count. When you build the tower, reinforce this concept again by counting each brick separately. Ask you child to check how many bricks there are again, by pointing to each brick. Simple activities like this can be built into every day play, and here are some examples of toys that you can use in this way:

  • Beads. These are wonderful for practising counting skills as you can count each bead as your child threads it onto string. This activity flexes those fine motor skills and hand to eye co-ordination too!
  • Number blocks. We love these brightly illustrated wooden blocks from Plan Toys (available for just £15) because they Using play for number skills~TheToadstooluk.wordpress.comreinforce recognising digits, counting, and ordering numbers too. The blocks are also great for more tactile learners- encourage your child to trace his finger along the numbers and ask him to tell you the name of the digit. There are many ways to play with these blocks- ask your child to order the numbers 1-10, match the pictures to the corresponding digits, or even play a memory game by turning the blocks over and asking your child to find a certain number.
  • Building blocks. As already mentioned, your child can count as he builds, and you can prepare the activities by asking for towers with a certain number of bricks too.
  • Play foodHow many apples can you fit in your basket? Ask your child to guess, and then try. Make sure you count!
  • Marbles/ ball tracks. How many marbles/ balls can you roll across the floor to me?
  • Jigsaw puzzlesNumber each piece of the puzzle on the back, and ask your child to complete the puzzle by ordering the numbers. For younger children, use chunky jigsaws with larger pieces, and help your child to recognise and order the numbers by counting as you go.
  • Role play toys. If you’re playing kitchens, ask your child to count out four cups to fill with juice. If you’re playing shops, Using play for number skills~TheToadstooluk.wordpress.comintroduce toy money to use as part of the play. Your child does not need to know, at first, about adding up prices or giving change etc, but toy money can be a lovely way to reinforce counting skills and number recognition. The Haba Biofino play money does have numerical denominations printed on them, which is wonderful for older children too. For younger children, keep it simple- swap an apple for five coins, and ask your child to count them out for you. Talk about the numbers on the coins and notes.

Play is such a wonderful way to encourage number skills in children, and when you start to look for opportunities to nurture these skills, you will see many ways to make it fun. Read stories and recite rhymes that use numbers and counting; count the buttons on a shirt as you get dressed in the morning; count the number of red cars you see on your afternoon walk. With constant, fun, reminders your child will begin to recognise numbers, and relate them to a specific number of objects- thus progressing from being able to recite words to being able to count properly.


4 responses to “Using play for number skills

  1. Pingback: Play time for Pre-schoolers | The Toadstool·

  2. Pingback: Point + Shoot part 1 – recognising the numbers! | The Toadstool·

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