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Making Numbers Fun with Sensory Play

Numeracy skills are essential for everyday life as an adult which is why it’s important to start introducing basic maths concepts to children from a young age. Some of the most fundamental numeracy skills required are number recognition, counting and sequencing. Sometimes it can be quite tricky to get children interested in numbers, but there are lots of fun and engaging ways to introduce these concepts to toddlers.

Learning through play is one of my favourite ways to teach new concepts and reinforce existing skills. By making activities playful and fun, young children are more likely to engage for longer periods of time and absorb new concepts more readily. Sensory play further enhances learning by engaging one or more of the five senses and allowing for tactile hands-on learning. One of the easiest and most engaging ways to introduce early maths concepts is via a numeracy sensory tub.

The use of sensory materials encourages natural exploration. Using dry materials will ensure the numbers can be submerged and moved through the material without them getting wet or damaged. This sensory tub is recommended for toddlers (or older children) who are past the mouthing stage. Although this activity is primarily designed for introducing and learning numeracy concepts, it can also be used to develop language, fine motor skills, reinforce colour recognition and textural exploration.

Fine motor tools are incorporated to allow for fine motor skill development and reinforcement, such as pincer grip and hand strengthening. Choose which tools to use depending on your child’s fine motor ability. As with all sensory play parental supervision is recommended.

Age guide: 3+

What you will need:

  • Shallow tub
  • Sensory material (for this activity I used cous cous, but you could easily use rice, dry pasta, cloud dough or even kinetic sand).
  • Magnetic numbers or wooden numbers
  • Fine motor tools (handy scoopers, tweezers, tongs etc)
  • Dice (optional for older kids)

Set up:
1. Fill the tub with your chosen sensory material and either place the numbers on top or submerge them within the material.

2. Place chosen fine motor tools to the side so your child can choose which ones to use.

3. Encourage your child to explore the contents of the tub.

Sensory tubs are relatively open ended in nature so you can simply allow your child to explore the tub as they desire, or for additional learning opportunities try introducing concepts through language or specific extension tasks (depending on your child’s age and comprehension). These are some ways you can guide your child’s play to introduce specific concepts.

Learning through language:

  • Talk about the colours of the different numbers
  • Talk about what numbers they are touching
  • Talk about the feel of the sensory material
  • Talk about where they might have seen certain numbers before (e.g on a clock, street numbers, on a phone, their age).

Extension tasks:

  • Ask your child to find specific numbers
  • Ask your child to sequence the numbers once they’ve all been found
  • Roll a dice and get your child to find the number rolled (for older children)
  • Ask your child to separate the numbers into odd and even numbers

- Toni, Finding Myself Young

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