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Maths Provocations, Activities and Games Using Fingers, Hands, Toes and Feet

This is the first of a series of blog posts I have planned for this March with a maths theme. Next week I'll be sharing some of our favourite maths books; the following week some of our favourite maths resources and then the final week a review of our Spielgaben set.

Today's blog post has come directly from my brand new play and learning guide, 31 Days of Meaningful Maths. Children are natural mathematicians. They make sense of the world around them through playful exploration, solving real life mathematical problems that they encounter along the way. Who is tallest? How many milk cartons do we need? Will I fit through that tunnel? What happens if I pour this jug of water into this bottle? Who has the most smarties? How can we share out this pizza? We can encourage the development of mathematical skills at home and in our childcare settings with a meaningful, play based, open ended approach. An approach in which our children feel safe to experiment, take risks and engage in inquiry-based exploration. This is where my guide can support you, with lots of practical ideas and suggestions for simple, fun, meaningful math provocations, activities and games.

Children's fingers, hands, toes and feet make the perfect counting apparatus as they are always with them. Here are some activities to try:

  • Using fingers to count along with rhymes and songs such as Once I Caught a Fish Alive, Five Currant Buns in a Baker's Shop, Five Little Speckled Frogs, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, Ten in the Bed etc. helps to develop number awareness. Model how to hold up the right number of fingers, encouraging your child to do the same.

  • Take turns to say a number out loud while the other holds up the right number of fingers. Little ones love to correct you when you make a mistake. If you all want a giggle, try it with your toes (toes are much harder to control!) Once your child is confidently playing, you can introduce number cards (or an alternative number resource) as learning to recognise and name numbers is equally important. You can extend by saying 'Show me 1 more/less than 4', or 'Show me 4 add/take away 2', or even 'Show me 3 times 2' or 'Show me 6 divided by 2'.

  • Hide your hands behind your back. Together say 'Fingers, fingers, one, two three. How many fingers do you see?' Use TWO hands to show a number (starting with numbers up to 5, then extending once your child is confident). Encourage your child to count and/or show you the total with their own fingers.

  • Play an 'echo' game, where you clap, stamp or pat your knees a number of times, and your child claps etc. back to you. Start simply, and progress as your child's confidence grows. This game is great for developing listening skills too.

  • You'll find some more finger play games here. These have been designed for use in the classroom, but can be adapted for use at home.

Adaptations and ideas for the very young:

  • Simple finger play rhymes and songs, such as Two Little Dicky Birds, This Little Piggy Went to Market, One Finger, One Thumb, Keep Moving or Tommy Thumb, help to strengthen finger muscles in preparation for counting.

  • Fine motor control activities such as puzzles, peg boards, lacing cards and threading beads, or any activity that involves picking up and working with little pieces, will also help to develop finger movement and control.

  • Count as you climb up and down the stairs, or jump along stepping stones. Count out loud as you chop slices of apple for snack, or as you place soft toys in a basket. Take the opportunity to show your child the total number with your fingers.

  • Teach them how to show their age on their fingers. 'How old are you? Can you show me with your fingers?'

Extension ideas:

  • Use your fingers to explore number bonds to 10. I've always found the following song very effective for this. Sung to the tune of Frere Jacques. '1 add 9, 1 add 9. 9 add 1, 9 add 1. Put them all together, put them all together. That makes 10. That makes 10', and so on.

  • Play Morra, a hand game for 2 or more players that dates back thousands of years to ancient Roman and Greek times. Each player simultaneously reveals their hand, extending any number of fingers, a

This is an example from my brand new play and learning guide, 31 Days of Meaningful Maths. I am running this course live, with a DAILY EMAIL for the month of March. It's not too late to join in, but sign up will close on the 4th March. At the end of March it will be listed as an instant digital download, for you to save or print, work through or dip in and out of as you wish.

I hope you find some inspiration here. As always, my inbox is open at for questions or blog suggestions.

With love,

Rowan x

This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.

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