Skip to main content

Creating a Mathematical Environment

We all know that maths is one of the specific areas of learning within the EYFS, but how can you implement learning opportunities? Find out how to maximise mathematical practice.

Maths is often thought about as counting, shapes and colours but it is much more than this. Mathematical learning incorporates numbers, money, estimating, counting, grouping, pattern, shapes, size, recording (charts), sorting, predicting, addition, time, matching, subtraction, weight, quantity, capacity, comparing, problem solving, multiplication, division and language (more/less/fewer/etc). A common misconception from practitioners is maths is too hard to deliver. This seems to be due to a lack of self-confidence with their own mathematical knowledge and understanding of how to provide such a vast range of learning activities.

As with all areas of Early Years, how learning is offered has changed drastically over the decades. 20 years ago children were completing worksheets. I know as I was doing this! Thankfully, learning has become hands on and child-led. However, it is easy for practitioners to associate maths with formal learning. This could be due to personal experience of mathematical learning.

How can we overcome this?

Think about the provision you provide. Do you follow the children’s interests? Are the children able to make choices? Can the children take the lead in their play? Do you seize teaching moments? Are the children able to choose their own resources? These are all important parts of your provision, especially when you’re thinking about the characteristics of effective learning and providing opportunities for problem solving, estimating and ensuring children are exposed to mathematical learning.

Areas and experiences that provide mathematical learning opportunities:

  • Playdough
  • Construction
  • Role-play
  • Cooking
  • Sand/water
  • Loose parts
  • Investigation (natural objects)

Let’s break these down and look at each area in detail.


Resources required: loose parts, candles, cake cases, cookie cutters, scales, numerals, cutting tools (children’s blunt knives and scissors), rolling pins.

Learning opportunities: mark make, count, problem solve, estimate, compare, match, sort, weigh, complete sums; discuss shape, size, pattern, quantity and use a vast array of mathematical language.


Resources required: a selection of constructive equipment – blocks, bricks, boxes, magnetic pieces, stickle bricks, cubes, octons, loose parts, tape measures, tubes and anything else you can find to build with. Remember to use large and small building materials.

Learning opportunities: predicting, sums, counting, shape (2D and 3D), pattern, weight, grouping, matching, sorting, measuring, mathematical language and problem solving.


Resources required: telephones, pencils, paper, telephone directory, calculator, clock, packets/tins, catalogues, remote control, loose parts, scales, numerals, tape measure, muffin tray, money, bowls/plates/cups.

Learning opportunities: mark make, count, recognise numbers, problem solve, compare, match, sort, weigh, shape, size, sums, quantity and mathematical language.


Resources required: recipe book, cookie cutters, scales, measuring equipment (spoons/jugs).

Learning opportunities: count, compare, weigh, complete sums, shape, size, pattern, quantity, time and mathematical language.

Sand/water/mud kitchen:

Resources required: measuring jugs/cups/bottles/spoons, various sized trays (ice cube tray, muffin tray, cake tins), saucepans, different sized spoons, bowls, funnels, loose parts (including natural resources like flowers, leaves and herbs), candles, numerals, mark making equipment (chalks and chalkboard/pens, paper and clipboard), recipe cards and mathematical language.

Learning opportunities: mark make, count, problem solve, estimate, compare, weigh, sums, shape, size, pattern, quantity, capacity, recording and mathematical language.

Loose parts:

Resources required: these can be anything that is safe for your age group. They can be collections such as, carboard boxes (large and small), bottle tops, corks, pine cones, sticks, shells, buttons, conkers, glass nuggets, cd’s, tubes, tins, pom poms.

Learning opportunities: count, problem solve, estimate, compare, match, sort, sums, shape, size, pattern, quantity, grouping and mathematical language.


Resources required: any natural object e.g. stones, shells, insects, leaves, dead starfish, flowers, spotter cards for birds/insects/tress etc, magnifying glasses, natural world reference books, pencils, paper.

Learning opportunities: match, compare, sort, group, count, shape, size, pattern, colour, recording and mathematical language.

As you can see, every single element of mathematical learning is covered within these areas. Some of the areas cover almost every element. These areas are for play and do not require sitting down at a table to complete a worksheet. They are hands on learning and child-led. However, it is important to understand that practitioners are required for children to be able to develop their mathematical skills.

The role of the practitioner:

  • To seize teaching moments.
  • To ask open ended questions e.g. what will happen if…? How could you…? Can you see the differences/similarities? How many more/less are needed to…? How many does each person need to have the same?
  • To encourage children to seek additional resources if required e.g. numerals, containers, measuring equipment, paper and pen.
  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Provide a mathematical rich environment.
  • Scaffold and expand mathematical knowledge.
  • Inform parents of the mathematical benefits of the activities you provide.

Think about how children learn – through play. Practical learning with a practitioner providing visual and auditory information ensures that each learning style is catered for.

Maths with under 2’s:

As above, babies learn through their senses so need to be able to touch, feel, taste and explore resources. Most of the resources listed above are suitable for babies or can be adapted. Opportunities for emptying and filling are required for this age group. Things like water, sand, jar lids, shells, tins, bags, bottles and bowls. Working with parents is essential for finding out what babies are exploring at home. Toddlers will often like putting washing in and out of the washing machine so provide opportunities for similar activities – socks/scarves and boxes/bags. To develop mathematical learning, the practitioner counts, uses mathematical language like full/empty/more/less, names patterns and shapes.

Lots of songs, books, daily routines like meal times and using the world around us, create opportunities for fun mathematical learning for children of all ages.

Maths outside:

All of the activities described in this blog can be completed outside but it’s not just about taking the inside out.

  • Scale activities up to provide additional learning opportunities.
  • You can use acrylic mirrors for children to create and build on, providing symmetry.
  • Children develop their sense of space and prepositions easier outside so ensure there is ample space to move about, equipment to climb, swing or jump from.
  • Use lots of natural resources found outside.
  • Use the wider environment by going on number walks, making purchases at the shops or collecting materials like stones/leaves.


  • Your entire setting, in and out, should be full of mathematical learning opportunities with scope for children to physically participate.
  • Practitioners must interact and seek opportunities for mathematical learning.
  • Maths is intertwined with all other areas of learning.
  • The characteristics of effective learning are important.
  • Use open ended resources to maximise learning possibilities.
  • Follow children’s interests and their lead.



Leave a Reply