Headstart for Life

Math in the Real World

Posted on Monday, June 24, 2019 by 2 minutes

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to HeadStart For Life’s blog, Beyond Therapy!

If I were to verbally tell you the directions to a location, you might forget the directions as soon as you begin your journey. You would probably look for a pen and paper to jot down the directions so that you have something to refer to later. However, after traveling to that location a few more times, you would probably know it by heart and will not need the verbal or visual directions anymore. Because you have already experienced it.

The same goes for our children. We have all heard that children learn best through playing. That is because, playing is a form of doing. And experiential learning is all about learning through experience… by doing.

So now, if we applied that to Math, it is almost impossible to teach a child Math just by giving them verbal information. For instance, if I were to teach children how to count, I can probably teach them how to rote count verbally (only saying the words “one, two, three” and so on) but they will not know what does “one” mean.

The next step would be to provide something more visual for them to see so they can visualise it in their heads. So, let’s add visuals into the teaching. Let’s count while pointing to numerals. This will probably teach them to recognise that the word “one” is the number “1” but still, they will not comprehend that “one” equals to the value of one.

So, let’s add manipulative this time. Manipulative are objects designed as teaching tools to help a learner perceive mathematical concepts by manipulating it, requiring the learner to be engaged visually and physically. Some examples of manipulative would be blocks, counters, puzzles and many more. So, let’s count while stacking Lego blocks one by one. This will require your child to take a Lego block and count as he adds one block after another. Through this, he has learned through experience.


However, there are limitations to how much a child can learn in a classroom as the time and opportunities provided for them are also limited. With that said, parents can actually help extend those skills beyond the classroom in the child’s daily activities.

If you take a look at your surroundings, you will easily notice that there are numbers everywhere. From the numbers that are written on a clock at home to the numbers on a bus on the streets, there is a multitude of opportunities in your daily activities for you to expose your child to Math concepts and help them practise through experiencing it.


Photo credits: RawPixel

Photo credits: RawPixel


Below are some examples and ideas for you:

  1. Number recognition
    • Reading the numbers when going up/down a lift
    • Reading the numbers at a parking bay
    • Reading numbers at the supermarket
    • Reading numbers on a bus at the bus stop
  1. Counting
    • Counting when you play peekaboo with your child
    • Counting through songs (e.g. Once I Caught a Fish Alive, Ten Little Indians, etc)
    • Counting the steps as you ascend/descend a flight of stairs
    • Counting the amount of food (e.g. meatballs, biscuits, fruits, etc) on your child’s plate
    • Counting objects as you clean up (e.g. “1 ball… 2 balls… 3 balls… 4 balls… 4 balls in the basket! We’ve put 4 balls in the basket!)
    • For children who are already proficient in counting forward, you may also attempt counting backwards to introduce the concept of “before”. An example of how to do this is, to countdown from 10 to 1 to end an activity. This will also work on your child’s estimation and prediction skills (knowing that the activity ends after 1).
  1. Comparison
    • Comparing the size of his/her toy (big vs small)
    • Comparing the quantity of food on your plates (more vs less)
    • Comparing the length of your clothes such as, pants (long vs short)
  1. Patterning
    • Eating in a pattern during mealtime (apple-grape-apple-grape)
    • For children who are already proficient in the AB pattern, you can attempt longer ABC patterns (apple-grape-mango-apple-grape-mango)
    • Stacking Lego blocks in a pattern (green-red-green-red)
    • Arranging toys in a pattern (dog-cat-dog-cat)


These are just some ideas that, hopefully, has sparked your creativity, and boost your confidence in introducing the concepts to your child through his/her daily activities. However, remember to enjoy the process. Treat it as a fun game with your child instead of a drill activity. Take it slow if your child doesn’t seem to show that he/she is grasping the skills yet. Take a deep breath and go at his/her pace. The most important thing is to find objects or activities that your child enjoys and use it as a medium to teach them concepts, because children learn best through play.

Have fun! Are you ready? 1… 2… 3… Let’s go!


Photo credits: RawPixel



Vogt, F., Hauser, B., Stebler, R., Rechsteiner, K. & Urech, C. (2018). Learning through play – pedagogy and learning outcomes in early childhood mathematics, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 26:4, 589-603, DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2018.1487160

Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.

Laski, E. V., Jor’dan, J. R., Daoust, C., & Murray, A. K. (2015). What Makes Mathematics Manipulatives Effective? Lessons From Cognitive Science and Montessori Education. SAGE Open. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244015589588

Özdoğan, E. (2011). Play, mathematic and mathematical play in early childhood education. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences. 15 (2011), 3118-3120. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.04.256

Waite, S. (2017). Children learning outside the classroom: From birth to eleven. SAGE.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Vivien

Vivien has been working with children for years. She is most keen on exploring interesting tools and methods to help children learn. She is a firm believer that children learn best through experience and play, thus she incorporates these strategies as much as she can in her sessions.

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