This post is from Anusha Rao, Communications and Social Media Consultant. Anusha is a parent of 3, and enjoys sharing her parenting journey at Talking Cranes and reviewing children’s literature for Saffron Tree.

This summer presents a new challenge for me as I look for summertime math activities for not two but three of my boys, ages 9 years, 7 years and 11 months. I’ve always felt encouraged hearing from other parents and caregivers about their experiences tying in math with play. It’s in this spirit that a few Zeno team members and I will be sharing our families’ math explorations with you this summer. I expect we’ll have some successes and some mulligans along the way. I hope you’ll check back at the Math Matters Blog to hear all about it!

This has also been a learning opportunity for me, as it has challenged common misconceptions about introducing math to the littlest learners, in my case, an almost-1 year old. How does one teach math to the 0-5 age group? Make them do worksheets? Sing them the multiplication tables instead of lullabies?

Hardly! I explored activities for toddlers, and I learned that babies are natural mathematicians. When an infant reaches out to grasp, she is estimating the distance to that object. When a toddler pours water into a smaller cup, he is experimenting with volume. When a preschooler insists on wearing a red checkered shirt with green striped pants, he is putting together different patterns he may have observed elsewhere.

I discovered that it was surprisingly easy, even natural to weave in math into a toddler activity without making it a discrete or formal learning block.

For the littlest learner

I picked up assorted 3D shapes from around the house and let my 11 month old explore. I followed his lead as he turned an object around and examined it. As he picked up each object, I used mathematical vocabulary to describe the attributes of the object like its size, shape, weight, and texture.

Toddler math

With the plastic ball, I shared, “That is a white plastic ball. It is round. See how it curves all over?”


With the crescent shaped plush toy – “That looks like a half of a moon. It is straight on one side and smooth and curved on another”.

My goal here was to provide a preliminary exposure to geometry using simple and familiar objects. I know we’ll revisit this activity several times over the next few years, adding increasing layers of complexity each time, with new vocabulary and level of interaction. When he is ready, maybe we’ll trace the shapes, identify other similar shapes around the house, or see how one shape fits into another. The possibilities are endless, but the results are concrete – activities such as this provide a solid foundation to math skills.

This is the principle behind Zeno’s MathWays for Early Learning program. The goal of the program is to give families and caregivers of preschoolers the tools and training to encourage early math exploration. By modeling playing math with age-appropriate materials this program gives kids a solid foundation in crucial math concepts, long before they are in kindergarten.

For the 2nd GraderLegos

The 2nd Grader decided to make a pattern with LEGOs. He wanted it to be a double pattern – it was an alternating pattern of red and yellow, but it was also an incremental sequence. For him, this activity was about starting with a blank slate and creating a pattern and watching it grow.

For the 4th Grader

Inspired by Frugal Fun For Boys, he chose to construct a bridge strong enough to hold a Hot Wheels car using two red bins as anchors.

What did that have to do with math? As we discussed his challenge, we also talked about how math is more than just arithmetic. Math is problem solving, thinking out of the box, approaching a problem from different angles. Math is about asking the right questions. Before constructing this bridge, he had to consider several things – how long should his bridge be? How many LEGO pieces would he need to cross the distance? What combination of pieces could he use if he did not have the required number of same pieces? After using unequal pieces, how could he ensure the weight on both side remains stable?

After some pondering, designing and redesigning, he came up with this, and an explanation to go with it. “The bridge consists of 2 layers, the top part for cars and the bottom panel to hold the weight. The two sides have hooks that hold on to the platforms to reinforce the bridge.”

Lego bridge

And this is only the beginning! This summer holds a lot of promise for hands-on activities that incorporate math. We would love to hear about how you tie math into play with your family. Here’s to a summer full of Math Power!

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