How to Nurture Children’s Understanding and Enjoyment of Maths

How to Nurture Children’s Understanding and Enjoyment of Maths

By Paula-Elizabeth Jordan


It’s easier than you may think to encourage children to develop an interest in maths. Even as babies you can nurture their interest. For instance, when doing up your baby’s poppers/ buttons (and some of those baby-grows have a load of poppers!) count them as you do them up, or undo them. If you give your baby formula milk, count how many spoonful’s of formula you put in. The idea is quite simple – just count things in the environment that are relevant to your baby’s needs; this way if you’re very busy and have little time it will ease any worry you may have about not doing many/ any additional counting activities – additional counting activities, ha!!!! 😀


An abacus – is a Fantastic traditional toy to have in your children’s environment. It helps to make maths more concrete and accessible to very young children. Given that maths is in fact a completely abstract concept; it’s always best to start with something visual and concrete. The abacus is a great improvisation tool when you don’t have all the Montessori materials available! 🙂


It’s also best to introducedamountsfirst – i.e. how much is three? How much is five? Etc. Count as many different things of each amount that your resources and time allows you. Please note that you don’t need to do this all at once; for instance, after arriving back home from the super market count how many apples, how many pears etc. that you bought. Don’t worry about counting grapes!!!! 🙂


Once they begin to become more subconsciously familiar with the fact that each number represents a different amount, you can introduce what the numbers look like; 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Initially it’s best to also count the amount of something (anything) for each number. I will say here that I would do number flash cards with babies to help with their subconscious recognition of what each number looks like; however, I would definitely focus far more on counting. The Early Learning Centre has an activity that you can buy for this. NB With zero, explain that it’s the “mathematical word” for “nothing/ none”. Doing things the other way around, i.e. introduce the numbers – that are actually just symbols before the amount; your child may be able to count on rote; however they are very unlikely to understand what they are saying because they’ve never been shown. So please start with amounts (concrete) and follow on with the more abstract. 🙂


You can actually do elementary counting with babies on an abacus; I have and so far, the youngest child to voluntarily sit and listen was 9 months old. At first I just went up to 50 and 60; before she turned one I was regularly counting to 100 on the abacus with her. She actually had two abacuses, so would sometimes try and copy what I was doing with the other abacus. Trust me, a baby is more able to pay attention, focus and listen then what most people realise; especially between the age of 7-12 months. I know what are children capable of achieving, so I just go ahead and see what works best. The results are sometimes truly astounding. Abacuses are also great to use with toddlers, preschool and lower primary aged children. They can also be used to help make certain maths concepts more concreate for an upper primary aged child who is struggling a bit. One mathematical concept I’ve personally shown a five year old using an abacus is “number bonds”; this made it visual and concreate for her and she was able to complete all number-bond maths questions correctly by herself. 🙂


Abacuses are great for addition and subtraction. In Montessori we show children how they can add and subtract numbers from units, tens, hundreds and even thousands just by being able to count to ten! I’ve added/ subtracted figures in the thousands with pre-school-aged children on an abacus and they love it! – One little girl one commented to me; Wow that’s amazing – does anyone else know about this?”!! 🙂


You can also do simple addition with toddlers and pre-school aged children. Add together things like their age and their sibling’s age. With an only child pick a friend, or pet. You can also use the same concept to show them simple subtraction. Please note that your child doesn’t need to fully understand everything; the important thing is; first, that they’re engaged in what you’re showing them. Second, you show then clearly and correctly. When they’re older you will begin to see the “fruits” of the seeds you have planted. 🙂


I must share this; are you ready to hear one of the astounding results I mentioned earlier? I once worked with a child who had a French mother and a German father I was specifically hired to speak to her in English. I discovered a set of DK publication books at the local library; one being a counting book for early years aged children. Before I continue with the story, I must point out here that I would highly recommend DK books for children. As a Montessori Teacher the first thing that stands out about them is that the pictures are all realistic. Plus (plus!!), the counting book doesn’t just stop at ten; it goes all the way up to 100! 🙂


Okay, on with the story! This little girl was 12.5-13 months when I did this with her; I would count everything pointing at each object with my finger on the page as we went along. So it would start with one, and then go all the way through to 10 then it jumped up to 20, 50, and then 100. Bear in mind that with each new number, I counted everything on the page up to that number each time – nothing was left uncounted!! I just went on and on to see how long she would remain focused for. When I got to the page with 50 (yes that’s right – and I’d counted everything before then up to that) her concentration momentarily became diverted. Instead of giving up, I decided to see whether her interest would return if I counted in a more excited, enthusiastic tone. Sure enough she came right back and sat on my knee and listed to me count all the way up to 50, so I decided to count everything on the 100 page as enthusiastically and clearly as I could to see whether her attention would remain throughout. Well of course it did and I couldn’t believe it! – I felt as if I’d made a new discovery! Adults really can grossly underestimate the abilities of young children. It does matter that she didn’t understand everything; the important thing is that first, she was engaged throughout and this means that she is developing good focus that is a priceless learning tool. Second, I counted each number clearly and quickly; clearly so she could hear exactly what I was saying and speed helps maintain their interest. With such a young age they don’t learn a concept from one activity, they learn from repetition – that’s what’s important is doing the same activity regularly to give them an opportunity to really “take it in”. – I did that activity with her time and time again because she loved it so much – I had to keep renewing the library book!!! 🙂


Maths is more than counting, so whilst bonding/ playing, talk to your baby/toddler/ pre-schooler about the different shapes of things in his/her environment. This also presents an opportunity for you to “brush-up” on the names of all two and three dimensional shapes. When you do this it’s worth counting the sides/faces first and once they’re familiar with this, also count the angles/ corners. There are plent of books and puzzles that have the two-dimensional shapes. As I mentioned previously, DK also have a shapes book. Can I just say here that as an Expert whose reach this level as an early year’s educator, one thing that “gets to me” is when an ellipse is wrongly labelled an oval!! – So let me tell you here; an oval looks like a two dimensional egg (i.e. more bottom heavy!); the word oval actually comes from the Latin word ovum, meaning egg! Whereas an ellipse is more like an “equally stretched” out circle and they have two lines of symmetry, the oval only has one line of symmetry. 🙂


With solid shapes – it’s great if you can buy some traditional wooden building blocks. – The Early Learning Centre I know sells them. This way you can show your child the properties of each shape, i.e. does it stand, does it roll, etc. With a sphere you can use a ballnot too small, we don’t want any choking hazards. 🙂


A great way to also introduce fractions at a very early age is with an apple! – Yes that’s right, an apple. I’ve done this with children from 12 months to seven years and they all love it! Here’s what to do:


They need to be able to see what you’re doing as you cut the apple, so first they need to be clear that only you touch the knife and they are just to watch (safety always comes first). Then before you do anything just say; “this is one whole apple”, and hold it up briefly to show them. Then tell them that you are going to cut the apple in half, do so and ask them to count the halves. NB With very young children just count the halves for them. Then put the halves together and show them that two halves make one whole apple. Then tell them that you are going to cut the halves in half so you have quarters. Get them to count the quarters and show them how two quarters make a half and four quarters make one whole apple. I usually de-core it at this point. After that cut the quarters all in half so you have eights. Get the child to count how many eights there are and show them that two eights make one quarter, four eights make one half and eight eights make one whole apple. Then either put all the pieces in a bowl or on a plate and I usually end by saying; One whole in a bowl”, or All eight on the plate”! – They love it, especially as they get to eat the apple at the end! – Who would have thought that maths and healthy eating would go together!! 🙂


Another great thing you can do to enhance your child’s understanding and enjoyment of maths is enrol them in something like “Number Fit”, or “Mathletics”. Number Fit from what I’ve experienced is great for pre-school and lower primary aged children. Mathletics (love the name!), based on what I’ve read about it from a Google search is designed for both primary and secondary aged children. To see whether you think it’s something that would work for your child just Google them for more information.


See, you can make maths fun! If you feel unsure about your ability to encourage your child’s interest and love of maths then please do contact me at;, or find me on Twitter/ Instagram @FamilyTeamCoach and Facebook/ LinkedIn, Paula-Elizabeth Jordan. 🙂


expert biography

Paula-Elizabeth Jordan is a Montessori trained Child-Development Expert who’s passionate about helping “Family Teams” work together for the benefit of each other, as this is how successful, well-balanced, happy children are raised. She has been Montessori trained for over ten years now and also has a degree in Theology with an Art minor. She is presently writing her own book entitled; “How to Bring up A Successful Human-Being”.

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