Counting and Maths Skills with Play Dough!

Set up a creative approach to developing early maths skills using play dough, matchsticks and wooden numerals! 

 I set out this mathematical Invitation to Play recently as a way to encourage some completely open-ended, hands on counting and number skills. If  you follow our Facebook page you may have seen it posted there. As is always the case with play invitations, there was no set outcome in mind and the children were encouraged to do whatever they wanted with the materials, with my role being to observe, prompt questions and interact when they wanted me to.

What was on the table:

I pushed a numeral into one ball of play dough and left the sticks and rest of the play dough to the side. Cakie (4.2) arranged all the little matchsticks the way that she wanted them, then started to stick them into the dough match the numeral that was there (5.) I asked her how she knew how many to put in and she said “becuae there is a 5 there so we need 5 sticks!” I asked her how she knew that she had put 5 in, and she proceeded to count the sticks using 1:1 correspondence (saying the number for each one as she touched/ pointed or moved it.) 
She then made more balls of dough and asked me to make some too, and added the other numbers to each one. She went on the put in the sticks for each one, counting out to check she had the right number each time.
When she got to the 0 she wasn’t sure what to do and it was a great opportunity for some problem solving skills! How many sticks would she need? How could she represent zero? She realised that she would have to leave it empty with nothing added!

What they are learning as they play:
[Recognising numerals, counting using 1:1 correspondence, matching numbers and amounts, recognising small sets, fine motor skill and control, problem solving skills]

Extend this activity!

  • Put the sticks into the dough first and ask the child to count them, then find the numeral to match
  • Take some sticks away from the dough ball and work out simple subtraction problems practically
  • Use a larger piece of dough to stick in two numerals, find the correct sticks for each and then add together to solve simple addition problems

Read more here about Invitations to Play, what they are and why they’re brilliant!

You may love these other playful numeracy ideas!
Handprint Measuring
Paper Plate Number Spinner
Play dough Learning Mats
Egg Carton Colour Sorting
Homemade Rain Gauge

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  1. says

    This is a really wonderful way to work on numbers. I love all the ways this simple activity has children thinking and learning. I shared this post on Sulia.