Play does not guarantee mathematical development, but it offers rich possibilities. Mathematical experiences for very young children should build largely upon their play and the natural relationships between learning and life in their daily activities and interests. As a parent, you can help by providing a play-rich environment and plenty of open-ended materials, and by asking questions that produce clarifications, extensions, and development of new understandings. Here are some easy ways to find math in everyday play:
- Supply lots of different, but ordinary, objects. Many have interesting geometric properties. For example, paper towel and toilet paper rolls can be looked through, rolled on the floor, or used to represent objects such as towers in a castle. This type of play develops your child's understanding of three-dimensional shapes.
- Play with the same toys repeatedly. Some materials are so beneficial that your child should play with them again and again throughout their early years. Blocks, for all ages, and age-appropriate Duplos and Legos can encourage your child to build structures, learn about shapes and combining shapes, compare sizes, and count. She also learns to build mental images, plan, reason, and connect ideas.
- Remember that "less is more." Buying too many different types of commercial toys can decrease your child's mathematical thinking and creativity. Rotate toys to keep them fresh.
- Count your actions. Many games and playful activities naturally call out for counting. How many times can you bounce a balloon in the air before it touches the ground? How many times can you skip rope?
- Play games — and not only computer games. Card games, board games, and others all help your child learn mathematics. He counts dots on cards and spaces to move. Indeed, counting helps him connect one representation of numbers to another. He learns to instantly recognize patterns of numbers, such as the dot patterns on dice or dominoes.
- Keep moving. Beanbag tossing, hopscotch, bowling, and similar games involve action and distances. Such activities also develop foundations for later measurement. Most of the games involve numbers and counting for scorekeeping too.
- Classify as you clean. Okay, this may be hardly as much fun, but matching, classifying, and sorting are important learning experiences that take place when playtime is over and everything must be cleaned up. It's also a good time to use spatial vocabulary such as "next to," "on top of," and "will that fit in this container?"