An Invitation to Play and Learn with Numbers and Natural Materials

Apr 27, 2013

Welcome back to the "Playful Maths" weekly series brought to you by

Together, let's make MATHS FUN!


Last week I shared Counting and Grouping with Sticks.

This week we bring you another 2 Playful Maths Activities using Natural Materials. 

This week we are focusing on counting and playing with concrete materials.
Other skills involved include fine motor, number recognition, writing numbers, counting on, making patterns, grouping, sorting etc.

Ages: 3+ (Maddie is currently 4)
(See the Handy Tips at the bottom to simplify or extend to meet your child's needs)

The Invitation to Play

Materials: Different amount of natural materials, numbers (we used foam numbers), paper and markers (optional)

The best part about an Invitation to Play and Learn is that once you have set it up, that's pretty much it. The rest is up to the child. Depending on the outcomes you are looking for, it is up to you how much or little you intervene in their exploration. Sometimes if there are ideas I'd like her to try that she hasn't discovered for herself, I just play side-by-side, doing my own thing and she can see and learn from that. (eg. she was busy making and representing numbers so I started making a little pattern.. When she was done with her other things she started creating her own patterns) Otherwise, you could offer suggestions or just let them be to utilise the materials the way they want.

Seed Pods (collected from the ground)

Gumnuts and Shells collected on nature walks

Little Sticks collected from the garden and cut to size

White River Pebbles purchased for $2 at a variety shop

Foam Numbers ($2 from a variety shop)

The Play, Learning and Exploration
This is what happened when I just let her be..

Tracing Numbers (yes, upside-down) :)

Counting out corresponding numbers of natural materials

Consolidating her understanding of how numbers are represented and what they mean

Hard at play

Representing the number 4

Look, we can represent numbers without the paper and markers

Teen numbers

The number 4 (included is a picture of herself because she is 4 years old)

Not wanting to move any of her creations she moves around the table finding new spaces to work

We tried making the gumnuts sit on the number 8 but they kept rolling off. 8 gumnuts for the number 8

We can make the numbers ourselves too!

We could do ordering

I can make 16 using a variety of materials. (Ask, how many shells? How many sticks? How many pebbles? etc)

I saw Mummy making patterns so I want to make them as well

I can make my patterns continue over the whole table!

Mummy challenged me to use ALL of the natural materials in a pattern. It's a bit tricky but I can do it!

Handy Tips

- Simplify this activity by providing fewer materials. Just some natural materials for them to put out and count and sort is a great starting point and you can add things like numbers and writing/drawing materials later.

- Extend this activity by:
  •  Encouraging number writing
  • Providing larger numbers or encouraging them to make larger numbers
  • Adding a die for children to practice subitising and counting and addition
  • Also providing mathematical symbols like "+" "=" etc to encourage number sentences and basic addition/subtraction etc.

- Mix it up by doing similar invitations with a variety of different materials. Instead of markers and paper you could provide a salt or sand tray for writing in. You could also use things like feathers, wood chips, leaves, stones etc.

- Use the mathematical language that goes naturally with this activity, such as groups of, amount of, pattern, continue, materials, etc.

- Ask questions to help lead children towards certain thinking, eg. "Do you have more gumnuts or shells?"
"I wonder which of the materials you have the most of?" etc. This should encourage children to count or compare or make guesses.

- Below are some of the previous Playful Maths posts from us and The Imagination Tree, using various everyday materials. 

Playful Maths with Natural Materials
(Click the pictures to go to the post)
 Symmetrical patterns with shells and natural objects

Playful Maths Bottle Top Activities
(click the pictures to go to the posts)

Playful Maths Egg Carton Activities
(click on the pictures to go to the posts)

You can see the rest of our Playful Maths here

Don't forget to join us next week where we're bringing you more Playful Maths activities.

Happy playing,
Debs :)
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  1. oooh I must keep my eye out for some foam numbers... did they have letters too??

    Loving your really 'doable' maths ideas.

    1. Thanks Kate :) Yes, they had foam letters as well. Trying to remember where I picked them up as whenever I'm out shopping and come across inexpensive numbers and letters... I almost always buy them. It would have been one of those $2 shops. We use the foam number and letter stickers a lot but these weren't stickers and a bit larger. Something different to play with :)

  2. I absolutely love seeing children work with natural materials. I think it's often forgotten about. Great post and the photography is gorgeous. Is this a new camera?

    1. Oh, thanks Kate! Yes, it's a new camera (well, it's a month or so old now so I have been using it on the blog for a few weeks). It takes clearer pictures than last camera but it's still not a DSLR... can still fit it in my handbag. yay! :)

  3. Just looking at those pictures makes me so happy!

  4. I love how you've used all the natural materials, they just make you want to engage with them! And great photos :-) makes me feel like I could actually touch the seed pods :-)

    1. haha, thanks! It's a joy collecting the materials to use as well and boy they look lovely all sitting in their jars ready for the next time we play with them. :)

  5. Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Fabulous activity and post. I'm a sucker for any kids activity that uses natural materials - they just make such a beautiful invitation to play.
    My son is about to turn three and he's really catching on to basic math concepts these days. Thanks for including suggestions to simplify the activity. He's not ready to do everything your daughter has done here but I can definitely use this as inspiration for a counting and sorting activity for him.

    1. Thanks Ann, so glad you could still find some inspiration :)

  7. So cool--I really love the natural element in it!

  8. You just brought back some very bad memories of stepping on those pods in barefeet in QLD Summer's!!LOL! But I love the invitation and all those wonderful materials. I bet she was having such fun...she looks so engrossed and that picture of herself is so cute! Another great maths activity Deb...thank goodness because I am awful at maths and I am storing all these up for the twins!!

    1. I bet you're not really awful at Maths, Jode. You just never had teachers that made it fun! haha
      Yes, those seed pods would hurt if stepped on! They make amazing imprints in playdough though haha :)

  9. Ok perhaps I am weird but I am sitting here admiring your nice neat gum nuts and those lovely round seed poddy things... I think I am obsessed with natural materials!

    1. lol... I was really annoyed today when I found my stash of acorns as well that I could have added. lol. I must admit I could be a little anal when it comes to scouring the ground for the perfect gumnuts and seed pods. lol

  10. So clever, I love it! Gorgeous use of the natural materials

  11. Love love love love love, oh and did I mention, LOVE?! haha

  12. Yesterday our daughter (2) was using pinecones and seashells to play. We counted and made shapes. We saw this and I really loved the use of natural materials. We are lucky to live in Puerto Rico next to pine trees and beachfront to collect seashells. Thanks for the other ideas!

    1. You're welcome. Sounds like you have a great source for natural materials. We don't have any beach close to us so we have to make the most of collecting when we can :)

  13. Love, love, love! Nature and math, you're speaking my language Deb. Sooo going hunting for nature products now

    1. haha. Even seeing the gorgeous natural materials all in their clear containers here at home is exciting. There is something so beautiful and enticing about what nature can provide. Do you love those seedpods? They are so beautiful :D

  14. Oh my goodness, this may be one of my favorite learning posts. I completely adore the use of natural materials. I think this will be a hit with my son. We use a lot of rocks in our activities but it looks like I need to expand my natural materials list :-). Love your beautiful photos as well.

    1. Thank you kindly, Sam :) It inspires me to look for more natural resources as these have been a complete hit at our house.

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