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Learning Maths Through Play

Beebot on Beebot street mat on classroom floor


Students must hold maths in their hands before they can hold maths in their heads”

Teaching mathematical concepts to young students can be done in a fun and engaging way through hands-on learning experiences. By introducing maths concepts through play-based learning activities, students can make connections by seeing and holding maths in their hands.

In this post, I will share a number of resources and ways you can teach mathematical concepts through play-based learning experiences.


Number & Algebra

Number & Place Value

Australian Curriculum:
Connect number names, numerals and quantities, including zero, initially up to 10 and then beyond (ACMNA002)

Year 2:
Explore the connection between addition and subtraction (ACMNA029)



SumBlox stacked on table

SumBlox are a great resource for the Junior Primary classroom. They are multi-sensory maths tools that allow students to visualise and understand the value of numbers through the various number block heights that increase with the value of the number. SumBlox help students build a strong understanding of maths concepts including patterns, addition and subtraction.

SumBlox multiple stacks on table SumBlox stacked landscape


Money & Financial Mathematics

Australian Curriculum:
Year 1:
Recognise, describe and order Australian coins according to their value (ACMNA017)
Year 2:
Count and order small collections of Australian coins and notes according to their value (ACMNA034)


Money Play Through Shops:

Classroom pretend and play class shop

Setting up a class shop is a great way for students to understand the value of money. Each student can be given a set amount of play money, or be rewarded with money for completing tasks in the class, that they can then spend at the class shop. Students can take on the role of shopkeeper and customer to learn about the cost of items and the change that needs to be given to the customer.


Bee-Bot Money Mat:

Bee Bot Robot on Money Mat

The Money Mat combined with a Bee-Bot, Blue-Bot, Dash, or other robot is a great way to incorporate technology into a maths lesson. Students can program their robot to manoeuvre to the different money amounts. To extend students’ thinking, they can add or subtract different money amounts together.

Both the Money Coin Spinner and the Money Note Spinner can be used to randomise the amount of money students need to program their robot to. Even without the Bee-Bot mat and robots, students can use the spinners to calculate the money amounts.


Patterns & Algebra

Australian Curriculum:
Sort and classify familiar objects and explain the basis for these classifications. Copy, continue and create patterns with objects and drawings (ACMNA005)
Year 1:
Investigate and describe number patterns formed by skip-counting and patterns with objects (ACMNA018)

Exploring Patterns:

Having students explore and create patterns helps them visualise the maths concepts being taught. Using various items like the Bear Counters, Counting Links or Wooden Counting Cubes students can organise and create a variety of patterns to show their understanding.

Counting links on floor Counting cubes on coloured card

Measurement & Geometry

Using Units of Measurement

Australian Curriculum:
Use direct and indirect comparisons to decide which is longer, heavier or holds more, and explain reasoning in everyday language (ACMMG006)
Year 2:
Compare masses of objects using balance scales (ACMMG038)

How Much Does It Weigh?

Students can explore the concepts of measurement through hands-on learning by physically holding the various objects to compare which item is heavier and lighter. First they can predict their answer, then test by holding the objects in their hands before finally measuring the exact weight of the items using the scale.

Rocker Scale on tableFeatured Product:  Rocker Scale



Australian Curriculum:
Sort, describe and name familiar two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional objects in the environment (ACMMG009)
Year 1:
Recognise and classify familiar two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional objects using obvious features (ACMMG022)

2D Shape / 3D Object Creations:

Exploring two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional objects in the Junior Primary classroom is always fun. Having students create their own pictures using both 2D shapes and 3D objects can be supported and enhanced by using physical objects and shapes to construct their design and develop their creativity. It enables students to hold, move and create their individual characters or pictures exactly how they would like.
Students can further demonstrate their understanding by pointing out the various shapes and/or objects they used in their created picture.

2d shape patterns on purple card3D clear shapes on coloured card

Featured Products: 

Freeform Play Shapes – 248 pieces
Small Geometric Translucent Shapes – 72 pieces


Bee-Bot Shape Mat/Cards:

The MTA Robotics Cards Set includes a set of shape cards which is another wonderful way to incorporate technology into mathematics. Using the MTA Shape Colour & Size Robotics Mat together with the shape cards, students can select a card from the pack, identify the shape and then direct their robot to that position on the mat. They can then describe and record the number of sides, edges, colours etc. of the shape they chose.

Featured Products:

MTA Shape Colour & Size Robotics Mat – Vinyl – 100 x 100cm
MTA Robotics Cards Set – 60 Double-Sided Cards


Location & Transformation
Australian Curriculum:
Describe position and movement (ACMMG010)
Year 1:
Give and follow directions to familiar locations (ACMMG023)
Year 2:
Interpret simple maps of familiar locations and identify the relative positions of key features (ACMMG044)

Bee-Bot Mats:

Bee-Bots are a great way to incorporate digital technology and mathematical concepts in the same lesson. They provide hands-on learning experiences that allow students to learn about directional movement by physically coding and seeing the Bee-Bot move in front of them. There are so many resources to support Bee-Bots in the classroom. I love using the Robotics Coding Cards for students to place onto the ground first before programming the Bee-Bot to move. This helps them to see their code and recognise any errors and to make changes if the Bee-Bot does not move accordingly.

Beebot Road Maze Mat with Bee-bot on classroom floor

Featured products:
Bee-Bot Road Maze Tiles Kit

Robotics Coding Cards – 60 Cards

Statistics & Probability


Data Representation & Interpretation
Australian Curriculum:
Answer yes/no questions to collect information and make simple inferences (ACMSP011)
Year 2:
Identify practical activities and everyday events that involve chance. Describe outcomes as ‘likely’ or ‘unlikely’ and identify some events as ‘certain’ or ‘impossible’ (ACMSP047)


What’s in the Bag?

colourful selection of 6 drawstring bags
Teachers can place a selection of objects in these colourful drawstring bags to suit their learning intention. An example is having five yellow bears and two green bears in a bag.
The teacher could then ask;
– ‘Will I pick out a red bear?’ (Students can respond with ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘impossible’.)
– ‘Is it more likely that I’ll pick out a yellow or a green bear?’


These are just some of the ways you can incorporate play into your mathematics lessons. There are so many learning experiences we can create to support our students’ understanding of mathematical concepts through hands-on play, it really is just up to the creativity of your lesson design to meet your students’ needs.


What hands-on lessons have you created to support your students’ mathematical understanding? We’d love to hear from you!


About the author

Eleni Kyritsis is an award-winning Year 3 teacher and Leader of Curriculum and innovation from Melbourne, Australia. Eleni facilitates professional learning workshops around the world that focus on unleashing creativity and curiosity in classrooms. You can contact her at and @misskyritsis


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Catching Up On Maths

Maths resources on desk

Playing Catch-up
Teachers and parents have done an incredible job working together to minimise the disruption to children’s schooling this year. Clearly though, the unique circumstances of this year will have us all playing catch-up for some time.
For teachers, this means that getting the most value out of your class time and resources has become even more important. For parents, this means continuing to support teachers, albeit in perhaps a slightly different way.


What Are We Catching Up On?
Generally, we’re seeing disruption:

    • in topics that were already problem areas. For Lower Primary, that’s basic number facts (addition and subtraction) and time and place value. For Middle and Upper Primary, it’s tricky subjects like fractions and basic facts (multiplication/division) and place value to two decimal places.
    • in areas where special equipment is required such as in geometry and measurement.


Do you run your class with a yearly plan? You might need to chop and change your plan, bringing forward the most important stuff and being prepared to prune a little. For example, many probability concepts are revisited in Year 4, 5 and 6, so you may be able to pick these up later. A great deal of fraction work begins in Year 4, and it’s essential that this is covered.
Are you a new teacher? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every content descriptor in the Curriculum needs equal attention. For example, here are two descriptors in the Foundation year from the Australian Curriculum, “subitise small collections of objects” and “connect days of the week to familiar events and actions.” The former is a key concept in mathematics and failing to grasp it can really impede progress, while the latter will likely be learnt informally in Year 1 or 2.


Parents as Partners
I think now many parents have developed a new appreciation for the work of teachers – they’ve seen how demanding remote learning can be. Parents themselves have become fatigued.
Most parents want to help and you can help them help you by giving them clear materials to share with their kids. We have developed a simplified look at the Australian Curriculum which you are welcome to share with parents and coordinate with them.

When parents understand the point of the materials and tasks, including the catch-up work you’re sending home, they are better equipped to help you impart that knowledge to the students.


Picking Versatile Tools
Parents will not necessarily have the specialty mathematics manipulatives that a school uses but simple materials – such as a collection of buttons that may be sorted according to a range of criteria – are still very powerful learning tools. Sorting and classifying involves the use of mathematical language and provides an opportunity for mathematical reasoning.
Take a look at MTA’s short video on button sorting for some inspiration.


At Home: Making and Creating (STEAM)
One avenue that will help catch-up particularly for younger students is drawing out some of the learning in everyday tasks.
I have seen some amazing LEGO creations constructed by my grandchildren. Without realising it, they are combining aspects of mathematics, science, technology and creativity, often referred to as STEM or STEAM. Most children will have some LEGO (or similar construction bricks) at home and will spontaneously design and build all types of models. LEGO itself provides further ideas on its website. It is well worth having a look.


Another catch-up avenue that parents can assist in is the use of games. Games are a fantastic catch-up tool. Playing games with children can help maintain relationships, while at the same time alerting parents to any issues that their children might be experiencing with mathematics. Most popular dice and card games, as well as domino puzzles and games, will support the development of fluency and reasoning. As children play these games their fluency will improve and parents can focus on any aspect of the mathematics inherent in the game that might be causing concern.
Here are some specific games that highlight specific concepts in mathematics.

Designed by Associate Professor Catherine Attard, this game not only promotes fluency but also strategic thinking. See here for a  video & detailed description of this game.

As the name implies, this card game involves combining numbers using basic number facts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication (tables) and division. Originally this game was designed to be played with two to six players, but during the COVID-19 lockdown parents have increasingly been looking for games that are suitable for a single player. Extra games that may be played with a standard set of COMBO cards may be downloaded here
I have made some short videos to explain how each of the games is played, which you can find here.


Specific Skills
Children require regular exposure to certain concepts like basic number facts such as tables. One specific skill that needs regular exposure is “telling the time”. Children need to tell the time on both analogue and digital timepieces. In basic terms, Year 1 children are taught to tell the time to the half hour, Year 2 to the quarter hour and Year 3 to the nearest minute. I think children should be encouraged to wear an analogue watch and be asked to refer to the time regularly. A child can act as a timekeeper and note specific times throughout the day such as lunchtime at 12:00 noon. In a school environment there are wall clocks and the wristwatches that match. The Easy Read Student Watch is designed for that very purpose. I recommend that two children in the class are allowed to wear the watch for a day or week and act as official timekeepers.


My Versatile Materials Picks
In terms of a basic kit of materials, I think two six-faced dot dice, two ten-faced 0-9 dice {LINK}, a pack of school-friendly cards, some counters {link} and some dominoes would make for a lovely take-home pack. There are so many things that you can do with this basic set of materials.


Featured Items


Combo Cards

Easy Read Student Watch

Six-faced Dot Dice



Dr Paul Swan Biography
Dr Paul Swan has taught at primary, secondary and tertiary level. He is an award-winning author having written over 50 books. He now writes, makes games and maths manipulatives and speaks to whoever will listen.


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