Get Regular Updates!
|Teaching maths through play in preschool


Teaching maths through play in preschool

It might be hard for some to believe that maths and fun could go together. But when they do, young children learn better, leading to better outcomes for them and for Australia.

Teaching maths through play in preschool

How early should kids start learning mathematics?

Our own experiences with the complex sums and symbols of maths might have us thinking that kids aren’t able to tackle it until they’re at least 6 or 7.

But ECU Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies Dr Marianne Knaus says, by teaching maths earlier, we can help kids achieve better results later in life.

More and more research is telling us that starting maths education in preschool leads to better academic results in mathematics in later school years.

Plus, it could also help boost Australia’s poor OECD rankings in maths as well.

View Larger
Research shows that maths education in preschool leads to better academic results in maths in later school years

Australia’s report card

In our ‘lucky country’, it’s hard to believe that, on a global scale, our kids would be achieving anything less than stellar results in their schoolwork.

But when our maths skills are put to the test, the numbers just don’t add up.

According to Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, Australia’s maths ability has been slipping over the years.

How early should kids start learning mathematics? Dr Marianne Knaus says by teaching maths earlier, we can help kids achieve better results later in life.
The average performance of Australian 15-year-olds in maths over time
According to PISA results, in 2015, 15-year-old students in Australia were, on average, a year behind where they were in maths in 2003

In the last round of PISA results, Australia was ranked 20th in mathematics out of 72 participating countries. We’re slightly above average globally, but well behind the top achievers. All in all, our global grade is about a C+ in maths.

Cs may make degrees, but given that an estimated 75% of the fastest-growing jobs in our country require science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, we probably want to pick up our game.

But what do we need to do to get that A?

Do the maths

Did you ever have that moment in maths class where you threw your pen down in frustration and huffed, “I’m never going to use this in real life”?

But you do—when you’re cooking, working, shopping, driving. We’re forever talking in measurements, distances, amounts, fractions and percentages, but sometimes we forget where we learned it all.

Maths is a part of everyday life, even for tiny tots. When small children are playing with building blocks, filling water buckets and making paper crafts, they’re using mathematical concepts. They just need someone to guide them with the language of mathematics to make the connection.

View Larger
Maths is part of a child’s everyday life. Sometimes they just need to be guided with the language of mathematics.

By changing the way maths is taught and relating it more to our everyday lives, we can make it more accessible for little learners.

Easy as 123

As an expert in early childhood education, Marianne is a strong advocate for play-based learning in preschool settings.

Marianne says there are different kinds of play in preschool. There’s free play, which is unstructured and uninterrupted, allowing kids to play the way they want. On the other end of the spectrum is adult-directed play, which is initiated by a teacher and more controlled and structured. In the middle lies teacher-guided play, where kids are playing freely but are assisted by a teacher guiding them with language. In this case, the language of mathematics.

So while children are building block towers, the teacher may ask them whose is the tallest. While kids are filling and emptying water buckets, the teacher may ask which bucket is heavier or how much more water is needed to fill a bucket. When constructing paper boxes, the teacher might ask how the child can make their construction stand up or balance.

Maths is a part of a child’s everyday life, whether they’re building block towers…
. View Larger
Maths is a part of a child’s everyday life, whether they’re building block towers…
…or filling buckets with sand or water.
. View Larger
…or filling buckets with sand or water.

This kind of intentional teaching helps the children see the mathematics in their play. It brings a real-world relevance to a subject that can be notoriously abstract. 1, 2, 3 is a lot harder to understand on paper than with real-world objects like toys, blocks or gumnuts, which you can touch and manipulate.

Put 2 and 2 together

Maths and play is a marriage made in heaven for kids—one that could help combat maths anxiety in later years.

It’s easy to implement, since preschools are the perfect play-based environment for teacher-guided learning.

The more children who are enrolled in early education and the more teachers practising play-based learning, the better the outcomes will be for Australia and our future workforce.

Because when it comes to teaching maths to small children—it’s child’s play.

We love science puns VIDEO


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?