Fun Maths Activity For Home Learning Kids
Maths is fun. No really, it is! Give this fun maths activity a try with your kids. They will love it. And they’ll learn while they’re playing, which is definitely a winner if you’re stuck for ideas of fun maths home learning activities that also keep the kiddos entertained.
If you’ve ever read the GinGin & Roo blog, then you’ll know I have two little girls with a five year age gap. It’s not always easy finding things to do that will keep both a three and an eight year old happy. But it’s not impossible either.
Remember I wrote about why I’m not “homeschooling” during this whole bizarre period that Coronavirus has brought on us? 16 weeks into social distancing and I’m still not home schooling. But we do do home-learning activities everyday. And have done since the beginning.
You can read here about the difference between homeschooling and home-learning.
GinGin – who recently turned eight – does some kind of maths activity everyday. To make things a little more fun – a bit more like play, and less like learning – we decided to crack open the Play Doh and make matchstick shapes.
I’m not sure which of my girls loved this fun maths activity more. It took just a little thought beforehand to set up separate tasks for each of my girls to do. So then they both had age-appropriate tasks in what is essentially the learning activity.
It’s so simple. Not very messy. And it’s really quick and easy to set up. Perfect for impatient little ones.
Related: discover a brilliant game for toddlers here
Fun Maths Activity
The goal here is to have fun with our kids making shapes. Any learning that comes from this is simply an added bonus!
I used to teach GCSE maths in an FE college, and so I know first hand how important it is to make learning maths fun. And it’s best to do this when our kids are still young.
We can sometimes pass on our dislike of things to our children unintentionally. And I know so many mamas who just don’t like maths.
But our kids are so keen to learn and discover new things, especially when they’re still just toddlers, preschoolers and junior school age.
Make it fun and they’ll want to do it again and again. Their learning will be built upon and consolidated with practise.
But if you make it seem like work, they’ll soon get bored or frustrated. Good luck trying to get a frustrated toddler to do anything they don’t want to do!
Keep it fun. Maybe join in and challenge yourself to make a dodecahedron!
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Why Make Matchstick Shapes?
Whilst there are some really great online maths programmes, games and apps for kids, bringing maths into the real world is so valuable for developing minds.
In particular it helps young children to make sense of the world around them.
Geometry and understanding the properties of different shapes is most effectively learned when children can physically see and touch the shapes.
Even better if they make the shapes themselves. Doing this establishes strong links between the pictures of shapes they see on worksheets, flashcards and in books, and how they are in reality.
Having a physical shape that your child has constructed themselves allows them to see and understand more clearly the properties of that shape.
That’s what makes this such a brilliant and fun maths activity, which you can adapt for toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children.
Making matchstick shapes is a fun maths activity that is adaptable for the EYFS, KS1 and KS2 curriculum.
Important childhood developmental skills are encouraged, learned and practised by making matchstick shapes.
This is an activity that is easily adapted.
Children at different stages of learning can be challenged to their abilities.
So if you have children of different ages – like GinGin & Roo – they can still play, learn and have fun together.
Related: here are 21 non-toxic toys your toddler will love
What You’ll Need
Like so many other of the activities we do at home, making matchstick shapes is so easy to set up. And it’s budget friendly too!
Lots of our best play ideas are ridiculously simple. But they’re engaging, active and often child-led. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.
For this activity all you’ll need is:
- coloured matchsticks – these are great for so many different activities and they’re really cheap to buy
- Play Doh – any kind of plasticine, play doh or blu tack will do; you could even use marshmallows if you have some spare in the kitchen cupboards
- wipeable tablecloth – I like to use an oilcloth tablecloth because it’s just easier to collect up all the little bits of Play Doh when we’re finished
You’ve probably got most of these things at home already. But, if you don’t, it’s a really small investment for things that you can use again and again for all sorts of fun activities.
How To Make Matchstick Shapes
The only limit is your imagination. You simply form different shapes by sticking the matchsticks together using small blobs of Play Doh.
The important thing is to encourage your child to make the shapes themselves. Don’t be tempted to do it for them.
Even if it goes wrong!
I did help Roo make sure her sticks were firmly stuck in the Play Doh, so the shapes she made held together. But she did make the shapes herself.
Matchstick Shapes For Toddlers / Preschoolers
Some simple shapes for toddlers and preschoolers to try are: square, triangle, star, pentagon, rectangle (this is more complicated if all your matchsticks are the same length!)
See if they can work out how to make a circle. (Hint: they only need the Play Doh for this shape).
Talk to your toddler or preschooler as they’re going through the process of making the shapes. You can:
- count how many matchsticks and Play Doh blobs you need
- ask your child to name each of the shapes
- talk about how many edges and corners each shape has
- encourage your little one to explore the materials: the soft, squidginess of the Play Doh compared to the hard, stiff feeling of the matchsticks
- ask your child to name the colours of the matchsticks and Play Doh
And when you’re done making shapes, let your little one get creative with the Play Doh and sticks. What can they make?
Related: learn how to make petal art for beginners here
Matchstick Shapes For Bigger Kids
If you have school age children, you can start them off with the simpler shapes. But they’ll probably find it too easy. So, to stop them getting bored, they can try trickier shapes.
Cubes, cuboids, pyramids and different shaped prisms are all really good 3D shapes that bigger kids can make. Or you could stick with 2D shapes, such as a parallelogram, rhombus, octagon, septagon, nonagon and irregular polygons like L-shape and arrows.
Again it’s important to talk with your child as they engage in this activity. You can:
- ask them to count the edges, faces and vertices of the shapes they make (these are the mathematical terms they will use in school)
- talk about how to find parallel lines, right angles and perpendicular lines
- introduce the idea of angles that are bigger and smaller than a right angle
- try and get them to think about where they’ve seen these shapes used in the world around them. Linking geometry to actual, physical things helps your child to see shapes in a less abstract way and will increase their understanding
As with younger children, once you’ve finished making shapes, let your bigger kids get creative. What can they make?
The trick with this activity is to keep it fun.
Don’t get fixated on making perfect shapes. Your main goal is to have fun with your child. The learning part is an added bonus!
What Skills Is My Child Developing?
Children of all ages, from toddlers right through to juniors, will benefit from this fun maths activity. It’ll help them learn, develop and practise some key childhood development skills, including:
- Fine motor skills – making small blobs of Play Doh and manipulating the matchsticks to make shapes
- Colour recognition – try making shapes from just one colour, or making patterns from the coloured matchsticks and Play Doh
- Shape recognition – consolidating shapes they already know and introducing new and more complex 2D and 3D shapes
- Maths – geometry and the properties of different shapes, using correct mathematical terminology
- Hand-eye coordination – picking up the matchsticks and making shapes with them
- Confidence and independence – letting your child make their own shapes without your help will encourage resilience and independence.
It’s just as important that older children practise these skills too.
GinGin, who’s eight, enjoyed every aspect of this fun maths activity. She loves playing with Play Doh. But she was also challenged by how difficult it was to make 3D shapes. Sometimes the shapes would collapse, so she’d have to figure out how to fix them. She didn’t give up!
Roo, who’s only just three, also really enjoyed this activity. She likes how Play Doh feels and so she busily got to work making lots of pea-sized blobs. But, when she saw her sister making shapes, she took on that challenge too! Roo decided which shapes she wanted to make and worked out how to do it by herself.
So two kids, with a five year age gap, both completely absorbed by the same fun maths activity. It kept them both busy for a couple of hours.
And, after making shapes, they made stick imprints and desert islands. They didn’t think about this as learning – it was all about having fun together!
Fun Maths Activity – Free Printable!
To make this fun maths activity even more simple to do at home, I’ve created this FREE printable for you. There’s suggested shapes for toddlers / preschoolers and for bigger kids too!
Simply sign up to my monthly newsletter by filling out your email address below to access your FREE printable.
Come and join us in my new Facebook group Toddlers to Tweens: Fun Learning and Play Ideas where we share activities, crafts and play ideas that can be done at home, with stuff you already have!
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This will be great for my just turned 4 year old, ready for when he goes to school in September, thanks!! x
It really is a great activity for toddlers and preschoolers. I’m a firm believer in making learning fun and active – especially for younger kids! Feel free to grab the printable for this activity. It’s split into toddler/preschooler and then has trickier shapes for when they’re at school. So it’s a fun activity that grows with your child 🙂
This looks very good learning activity. I ll try with my son , he is 3 and this looks perfect for him 😁
Thanks so much for your kind words. Both my daughters love this activity. My youngest is three and it’s perfect for her! Feel free to grab the free printable that goes with this activity. Simply fill out the form above. I hope your son has fun with this learning activity 🙂
This is so useful thank you! I hate the idea of using apps with my oldest daughter but it’s also hard to find fun games that teach her something valuable at the same time. Will definitely put these fun tips into practice 🙂
I know what you mean about apps. They have their place, and they’re used a lot in schools, but I’m old school and I like to do things away from a screen LOL. I hope your daughter enjoys this fun activity. You’re very welcome to join my Facebook community where we share more fun learning and play ideas 🙂 http://www.facebook.com/groups/ToddlersToTweens