Create your own math playground

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Create your own math playground Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool and Steady Mom

Since late-February I’ve been writing a series about math in our homeschools–trying to investigate this subject from a different angle. (Get it, angle?!! Math humor, gotta love it.)

Up until now we’ve talked about looking at math differently, what that practically looks like for other families, children, and experts, and how to use books to increase our young children’s love of and exposure to math.

A different way to look at math

Much of the research we’ve peeked at suggests waiting until around age 10, give or take, to introduce formal math. (I’m not saying this is the only way to approach it, by the way! It’s one of many intentional possibilities.)

If you decide to follow this advice, however, what should you do up until that age? Well, why not create your own math playground?


Here are a couple of possibilities:

Option 1: Less Structure

In the early elementary years of homeschooling, look for ways to bring math into your lives when the opportunity naturally arises (and of course it will!). Point out patterns in nature and the beauty of God’s creation. Discuss it all with a sense of wonder and possibility.

If your child enjoys games, follow her lead in playing some of the ones listed here–and read aloud some of the books I’ve mentioned in this post. As your child gets older, you may transition to option two below (or not, depending on you and your kids).

Option 2: More Structure

Let’s say you must document your child’s study for your state or country. Does that mean you can’t approach math this way? (I get this question a lot!)


I don’t think it means that at all. Just apply these ideas with a bit more structure and document what you’ve done as needed.

Maybe you decide to set aside 15-30 minutes each weekday, three times a week, or whatever suits you–making it your math play time.

Create a routine if that works best for you: read one math book or one chapter of Life of Fred (answering the questions aloud is fine, unless you need them written for proof of study), play a math game, and end with a Bedtime Math problem. Switch it up when you or your child need a break or get bored with the routine.

Now that you have an idea of how to play with math, let’s get an idea of what to play with! Below I’ve created a display of popular games, toys, and videos that I hope will be of help to you.

Feel free to bookmark this post so you can come back to it as needed. If you add a handful of items each year, over time you’ll develop a wonderful collection.

Math Games

Let’s be straight up about games for a second: They’re great for learning, but young kids can seriously stink at losing. This seems to get better with age and depends on the personality of the child, but don’t force something that makes you both miserable!

In our home I’ve found it works a bit better if I play one-on-one with a child (as opposed to siblings squaring off against each other).

Here are some of our favorites (plus a few other popular choices):

Math Toys

You have a ton of math toys in your home already. Don’t overlook the obvious: a ruler, measuring tape, compass, dominoes, beans for counting, and your kitchen measuring cups. We’ll find math everywhere if we keep our eyes open for it.

Some other options that might be worth investing in:

Math Videos

I’m all about using well-chosen video to add to our love of learning.

Below are some inspiring options you’ll want to check out, and this helpful math post from Thomas Jefferson Education also has links to several clips if you scroll all the way to the bottom.

Donald in Mathmagic Land

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Vi Hart’s YouTube Channel

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Love this idea from Gadanke about journaling with numbers

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8 videos that prove math is awesome @ Mashable

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” ~ Albert Einstein

What’s your family’s favorite way to play with math?

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Thank you Jamie for all of these amazing math posts! I have enjoyed all of them and they have helped me change my mindset (and anxiety!) about our approach to math. We have recently discovered the Family Pastimes cooperative games, and while none are hyper focused on math skills, they have really enhanced the enjoyment of game playing in our house!

  2. We love to incorporate math into our everyday lives (as well as using the fantastic Math By Hand curriculum).

    For example, last week the kids chose the hens they wanted to get, calculated the cost for a dozen, figured out the square footage of space we’d need to house them and the amount of feed and hay required. They did the same with the goats we were buying, and are helping to build and calculate angles and amount of hardware cloth needed for the pen we’re all building.

    We’ve used the same approach for baking bread, arranging rooms in a new house, and lots of other everyday events as they come up. It makes it “painless”. 🙂
    Erin – The Usual Mayhem’s latest post: Hula-hoop weaving

  3. Where can i find the games you have in your pictures with your kids. One is a wooden tic tac toe and the other is a wooden chess.

    • Hi there – I got those from ToysRUs many years ago – not sure if they still have them or not! It’s one board that you flip over to play both games.

  4. Thanks for those game suggestions! We love pattern blocks too. We have some on our fridge as well as in our math draw. I think they’re called fridge fractiles. The other resource I discovered and our family loves is this free download of mostly non competitive games using cuisinarre (sp?) rods.

  5. Excellent ideas! We’re quite relaxed homeschoolers, so on days when we “do nothing” – I put that in quotes because I firmly believe that even on days we don’t sit down and do formal school time, the kids find ways to learn something – this will come in super handy. Thanks!

  6. Another great game for both math and language arts at the same time is Quiddler! You spell words from your cards and get points. It’s quite fun for my 7yo and for adults.

  7. I have really enjoyed these math posts!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to put together such thoughtful posts full or links and examples. This has been such a blessing to my family. Just picked up our copy of Bedtime Math today and can’t wait to start taking a more relaxed approach to math.

  8. Adriana Watt says:

    What if you have an 11 year old who does formal math and now I discovered another way? Thank you. I can teach my other younger girls this way but is it too late to give him this method to bring back his love of math?

    • Definitely not too late, Adriana! I would consider taking a “deschooling” period from math for him–dropping it as a requirement for a period of months while you continue applying this method of playing with math with your younger children. Invest in Life of Fred and your own math education (so he sees you as a model). Also check out the games and videos I’ve listed here and the books from the other post I wrote with recommendations. Then you could slowly find a way to bring math back into his life in a more positive way. It’s never too late!!

  9. I love coming back to this series Jamie! So helpful and encouraging. We are taking a similar path to yours in the area of math. I just wanted to put a plug in that I would love to hear how, or if, you transition to something different as your kids get older. Thanks for your hard work to keep us all encouraged and on track!

  10. Regina Sullivan says:

    What to do if your child is 10 and struggling, but you are just now finding out about natural math? I have tried many approaches, I am just now reading about this way though. I like it and think it may help her.

    • I would recommend taking a break from math entirely for a while, Regina, and focusing on other things she loves while you allow her to rediscover math in a more natural way. Then after a detox period, you could begin to introduce math biographies as read-alouds (Mathematicians Are People, Too is a good one to do together) and you could slowly build from there–adding in math games, etc. If you haven’t read the other posts in this series, I’d start with those too!

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