One of my favorite ways to work on numeracy skills with preschoolers is through the use of games. This can be as simple as adding dice to a setup or can involve more complex setups with manipulatives. The key is always to make the focus on having fun and playing! Often, the kids won’t even realize that they are developing some key early numeracy skills, such as counting, ordering, 1:1 correspondence, patterning, number recognition and vocabulary, and number sense. In this blog, I share three ways to incorporate playful numeracy learning for preschoolers through the fun medium of games. 

Dice Poppers!

I honestly think that dice are one of my favorite materials for supporting the development of math skills. They add an element of chance and suspense, and of course, kids respond to that with excitement and laughter. We recently added Learning Resources Dice Poppers! to our learning materials, and they have proven to be a real hit with both my 3-year-old and 7-year-old. I like that you get two different combinations- one popper has a single dice with numbers 1-6 written on, while the other popper has two dice inside each with traditional 1-6 dots on them.

I wanted to share an example of how we use them in our playful numeracy learning at home. I got out our Fruity Fun™ Counters, a muffin tin, and some colorful silicone cupcake liners for this specific activity. My three year old decided to start off using the blue popper, which was great as it meant she would be working on her addition skills as she had to add the two sets of dice dots together each time. Her task was to pop the dice and then use a fine motor tool (she chose her favorite Squeezy Tweezers™) to transfer that many counters into the cupcake liner.

She loved the excitement of popping the dice and then adding all the dots together. This was great for her counting skills, as well as her number vocabulary. I also like that she was so engaged despite the simplicity of the setup. The Fruity Fun Counters prompted my daughter to decide that each cupcake liner was actually a pie case and that she was making fruit pie. Before long, the counting was happening naturally because it was just a small part of her more extensive play session.

This counting game could be done with small manipulatives such as buttons, pom poms, or even candy. Just add dice and get counting!

Penguins on Ice™ Math Activity Set

I honestly cannot say enough good things about this fun numeracy set. I have used it non-stop both at home and in the classroom since receiving it a few weeks ago. I think the reason I love it so much is because it is so versatile. I’ll share below a few of the ways that my 3-year-old enjoyed the set and share some ideas for how to use it in a class setting.

To begin with, my preschooler was more than happy simply placing the penguins on their little stands. The stands are rows often but can be attached vertically or horizontally, which is great for working on groups of ten. She enjoyed color sorting all the penguins into their own ‘homes.’ Soon after, she moved on, creating some patterns. All the time, she was working her fine motor skills hard and counting the penguins. She also discovered that she could balance the penguins on top of each other, which she thought was very amusing.

We have been enjoying the set by adding dice and playing a simple game of ‘fill the row.’ We took it in turns to pop the single Dice Popper! and then added that many penguins to our row. The first one to fill their row with penguins was the winner. Since the stands can be attached, you can gradually increase the difficulty of the game by adding rows and working in larger groups of ten.

As I mentioned, this set also works really well in a classroom setting. I really liked using this as a morning invitation to sort and count, with all of the stands and penguins being freely accessible. I think it is great to see how children choose to interact with the materials differently. I also found it a great product for using during circle time, with each child has their own stand and set of ten penguins, each a different color. It lends itself well to teamwork and addition, naturally encouraging communication and the use of number vocabulary.

Jumbo Soft Foam Dominoes

Dominoes is another simple but fun way to promote hands-on numeracy learning in preschoolers. We’ve used the regular size pieces before, but these jumbo ones were way more fun. As soon as my 3-year-old saw them, she gave a little ‘oooo aaaaa’ because she liked all the bright colors and ‘polka dots’ as she called them. We started off by sorting them into color piles before attempting to play a simplified version of dominoes.

We took it in turns to add pieces to our starter domino, always matching the numbers. This was great for her counting skills, as well as her problem-solving skills. When playing with younger kids, you can simply let them add dominoes wherever they like, with all pieces face up to make things a little easier. She ended up calling it a ‘number train,’ with her adding different colored carriages each time. Perfect creative play-based learning!

This set will also serve us well for additional work in the future and sorting by number and color activities. I am also excited to add an element of sensory play by using them with water in the future.

What are your favorite games for encouraging early math skills in preschoolers? There are so many great ways to simplify games to make them inclusive for preschoolers; just remember to make them as hands-on as possible to maximize engagement.