What maths skills do children need to be school ready?

Babies and toddlers start getting the hang of maths ideas far before they start school. What starts off as simply saying where the teddy is will become geometry. Counting will become algebra. Noticing someone has more than themselves will progress to statistics. All these advanced concepts start somewhere. And that somewhere is at home with their very first and most important teacher, the parent. So what are these foundation skills needed and how can you develop them at home?

The Number System

This is the ability to count, at this age children are working on counting accurately forwards. Soon they will be able to count backwards and progress to adding and subtracting. A great way to get your child practicing these skills are to do lots of counting songs! Many counting songs also incorporate subtracting which is great! Try stopping the song and asking how many there are left, or acting it out with soft toys. It's also important for children to recognise numbers. Have a look at numbers around the house, there are loads! Teach your child you phone number, your house number, your friends house number.


This is knowing that a number is a quantity and seeing it as real. A great activity to practice representing number is collecting an amount of different items. Why not try an out door scavenger hunt and ask you child to find 3 pine cones and 5 read leaves? When you have bedtime stories, say how many stories you will read so they understand the numerical concept. I will read 3 stores, would you like to pick out 3? When you enjoy a book together, discuss how many cows/trees/cars there are on different pages.

Spacial sense

Children begin by saying where things are, using language like: up, down, onto, behind. An obvious activity is placing the teddy bear in different places. Where is the teddy? This skill is also knowing shapes. There are loads of shapes in the environment, when you are out and about see what shapes you can find with your child.


A foundation for this skill is knowing that something is bigger/heavier than something else. Drawing pictures of the family is a great opportunity to discuss who is bigger/smaller. Another thing you can do is cook with your child. Let them help you measure some ingredients (if you use the American system of cups it is pretty simple!) Time is also a measurement: time you children doing things. How many bits of rubbish can you pick up in a minute? I will be 10 minutes in the bath. The cake will be ready in 30 minutes. This gives children an idea of what time is.


This is a tricky one for children. Any discussions about anything unknown is great to develop this skill. If you have boxes with something unknown inside, ask them to guess what is inside. Be sure to ask silly questions such as: do you think there is an elephant in the shoe box? This will help them understand and articulate what might be a more sensible idea. Another great one is sorting the washing. How may socks do you think there are? Do you think there are more socks than pants? Which pile is bigger, white or darks?


Patterns are anything that repeats in a logical way. Children start to understand patterns from a very young age. They will begin to know what happens next, such as a bedtime routine. Each night they have a bath then put on their pyjamas, read a book and go to bed. Each day the sun comes up and each night the moon comes up. Talking to your child and helping them articulate these patterns will help their understanding. You can also make patterns with many of their toys. Red block, but block, what comes next? At Number Tots, we like to get out the potato paints to make our own patterns!

Problem solving

This skill is so important to develop from a young age. Maths is all about problem solving! It is all about thinking through a problem and using all our past experiences to help us solve it. Many children have shape sorters at home- children try each hole, pushing it harder, rotating it and figuring out where it goes. The more they do it the easier it becomes! Discuss problems with your child and model solving the problem yourself, "ah the saucepan doesn't fit in the dishwasher, how could I re arrange it so it will fit in? Hmmm I wonder if I move this plate if it will fit in?"

The bottom line..... Talk about EVERYTHING with your child. Articulating a child's ideas supports them in solidifying their understanding. So make every household task an opportunity for learning!

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