What parents and carers can do to promote maths every day

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15 July 2022

Parents and carers can give their young children a boost in learning mathematics by noticing, exploring and talking about maths during everyday activities at home or out and about. Dr Simon Lindsay (General Manager, Improved Learning Outcomes) and James Giannopoulos (Team Leader, Mathematics) at Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS) have some advice for parents and carers to support students in maths.

Research shows that one of the biggest barriers to parents and carers engaging in conversation about maths is their lack of confidence in leading maths education at home (Maloney et al. 2015; Phillipson, Gervasoni & Sullivan 2017). Through examining international research, the following types of activities were identified as important for early maths learning, and are easy for parents to use. They include:

  1. Comparing objects and describing which is longer, shorter, heavier or holds less.
  2. Playing with and describing two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional objects.
  3. Describing where things are positioned, for example, north, outside, behind, opposite.
  4. Describing, copying and extending patterns found in everyday situations.
  5. Using time-words to describe points in time, events and routines (including days, months, seasons and celebrations).
  6. Comparing and talking about the duration of everyday events, and the sequence in which they occur.
  7. Saying number names forward in sequence to 10 (and eventually to 20 and beyond).
  8. Using numbers to describe and compare collections.
  9. Using perceptual and conceptual subitising (recognising quantities based on visual patterns), counting and matching to compare the number of items in one collection with another.
  10. Showing different ways to make a total (at first with models and small numbers).
  11. Matching number names, symbols and quantities up to 10 (Phillipson, Gervasoni & Sullivan 2017).

Games to play using everyday situations

Neuroscience research has provided crucial evidence about the importance of early nurturing and support for learning, brain development and the development of positive dispositions for learning (ZERO TO THREE 2022).

There are plenty of everyday games and activities that can boost children’s mathematics learning. For example:

  • talk with children as you prepare meals together
  • talk about measuring and comparing ingredients and amounts
  • look at maps, shapes and money
  • play children’s card games and games involving dice, such as snakes and ladders.

Although these activities may seem simple and informal, they build on what children notice and question, give families the chance to talk about mathematical ideas and language, and show children that maths is used throughout the day.

Make it relevant to them

Perhaps most importantly, one of the best ways for children to get into maths is by making it appealing and relevant to them.

During everyday activities with children, such as walking down the street or sitting in the park:

  • bring their attention to the objects around them that they are interested in – houses, cars, trees, signs
  • guess the distance walked, in order to create a mental benchmark of metres and kilometres
  • look at insects or small pebbles, highlighting millimetres or centimetres to encourage the need for using appropriate metric units
  • talk about the shapes and sizes of objects, and look for similarities and differences (for example, ‘let’s find a taller tree or a heavier rock’)
  • count the number of cars parked in the street or time how long it takes to reach the next corner
  • discuss the temperature and how that feels
  • discuss the speed of your walking pace
  • explore the sharing of whole objects and divide them in half to develop the understanding of equal groups and fairness.

It is never too soon to begin these activities. Babies who are only weeks old notice differences in shapes and the number of objects in their line of sight.

So, from the earliest of ages, talk with your child about the world around them, being descriptive and using mathematical words. As they grow, build on what they notice about shapes, numbers and measures.


Maloney, EA, Ramirez, G, Gunderson, EA, Levine, SC & Beilock, SL 2015, ‘Intergenerational effects of parents’ math anxiety on children’s math achievement and anxiety’, Psychological Science, 26 (9), 1480–8.

Phillipson, S, Gervasoni, A & Sullivan, P (eds) 2017, Engaging Families as Children’s First Mathematics Educators: International perspectives, Springer, Singapore.

ZERO TO THREE 2022, ‘Early connections last a lifetime’, ZERO TO THREE, accessed 2 May 2022 www.zerotothree.org.

This is an extract of an article which originally appeared in Director’s eNews on 6 May 2022.