Learning your 1 2 3s

Making maths fun is the key to mastering mathematics and here are some easy ways of making maths into a game that your child will want to play.

Under 5s

  •  Say 1, 2, 3, 4 slowly, or loudly, backwards, forwards, clapping as you say it.
  • Sing number rhymes (‘one two three four five, once I caught a fish alive’ and ‘one two, buckle my shoe’).
  • How many fingers am I holding up? Count them yourself and then tell me.
  • Flash cards for recognition of numbers, first up to 10, then to 20.
  • What’s missing? Use number cards to 10. Lay them face down and, without the child looking, remove one. Turn the cards face up and allow your child to work out which one is missing. Encourage them to put them in the correct order from 1–10.
  • How far can you count forwards? What about backwards? Count these cubes as I point.
  • Silently count my claps (first space them out evenly like a beat, then space unevenly).
  • Say a pattern of sounds (for example, tick tock tick tock tick tock …), then stop it suddenly. Ask your child to continue it.
  • Show me the number 5 using two hands (3 on one hand and 2 on the other hand = 5).
  • Number recognition: what number is on your letterbox? The bus? The telephone? Where else can you see numbers?
  • Counting: how many buttons on your clothes? Who has the most buttons? Fewest? Who has one less than dad? Who has one more than you?
  • How old are you? How old were you last year? How old will you be in two years? Who is older: you or your sister?
  • Count in your head until I stay stop. What number did you reach? Now count out loud until you reach that number.
  • Can you think of ways of making a pattern using playing cards? Red black red black …  Odd even odd even odd even … hearts clubs hearts clubs …
  • Count on from a given number (e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc).
  • Put these cards with numbers 0–10 on in order. Close your eyes. I am going to remove one or take two away or swap two over, etc. Tell me what has changed.
  • Spot shapes (2D and 3D shapes) in the environment (eg, wheels – circles, microwave – cuboid, rectangle – telly).

5-to 8–year-olds

  •   Choose a number and show me using your fingers. Now, write the number in the air.
  • Count these buttons (or shells or any object) in this box. I have now taken three away. Without looking, how many are left? Let’s check.
  • If we counted around our family circle and we started with number 5 being you, who would be number 8?
  • What number comes before 3? What number comes after 2? What number is 2 more than 8? etc.
  • Combine two or three groups of numbers & find the total.
  • Order a given set of numbers (eg, 5, 8, 3, 2).
  • Story problems. For example, if I have one banana and you gave me two more, how many would I have altogether? If you have three apples and I give you one more and dad gives you two more, how many would you have altogether? You have five eggs but you dropped two, how many eggs did you have left? Use objects for children to count if necessary, but encourage your child to use their fingers/minds as they become more competent.
  • Count in twos, fives, tens, ones, forwards, backwards.
  • Play card games using cards numbered 0–3 (increase to 0–5 if child is ready). Turn two cards over at a time and ask your child what the sum of the two numbers is. What is the total? Is that more or less than 5?  What is the difference between 5 and your number?
  • Pick up a handful of paper clips (spoons or straws). How many do you think there are? How could we count them (in ones, twos, fives, and tens)?
  • Recognise coins and understand no coin exists for the values 3, 4, 6, 7, etc.
  • Know the days of the week in order, and months of the year.
  • Using a dice, roll the dice and see if your child can quickly shout out the number it is showing, without actually stopping to count. How fast can they read the dots on the dice?
  • Using playing cards, turn two random cards over and work out the sum.
  • Read o’clock on the clock (analogue and digital).
  • Using dominoes, find the sum of the two numbers on the dominoes, work out the difference between the two numbers, and find doubles on dominoes (1+1, 2+2, 3+3…).

9-to 12-year-olds

  • Play Quick Fire mental maths games (152 + 13 = ?), asking your child to work out the sum in their head and then shout out the answer. This is a fun game for the car, especially if there is more than one child because they can see who can work it out the fastest – and it’s great for basic facts reinforcement.
  • Sing the times-tables (there are some good CDs around).
  • Do baking using recipes from books, practise doubling the recipe, etc.
  • Play story maths problems (on a car trip is a good time).
  • Play games together, such as Monopoly, jigsaw puzzles, Rummikub and card games.
  • Teach your child to play chess, it’s great for strategy-building ability.
  • Ask your child to explain how they came up with difficult answers.


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