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Maths in the EYFS

There's more to maths than counting! We all use maths skills in our daily lives and finding opportunities for supporting young children with numbers, shapes, space and measures in your childcare setting is easy when you know how. Read on for our tips and ideas.

Maths and the EYFS

Maths is one of the four specific areas within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Each specific area is divided into Early Learning Goals, for maths these are:

  • Numbers - children learn to count and the value of numbers, higher and lower. These skills support them to solve problems, use money and calculate more or less.
  • Shape, Space and Measure - these skills support children to understand size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money and compare quantities, objects and solve problems.

Best practice and activity ideas

Children learn about maths through play and their daily experiences. And the more meaningful to them and hands on it is, the better.

Make sure your setting's environment (both indoors and out) is full of mathematical opportunities and has exciting things for children to explore, sort, compare, count, calculate and describe. Support them to be creative, critical thinkers, problem solvers and to have a go. For an idea of what children can understand and do at different ages, take a look at the What to expect, when? booklet.

Our washing line activity sheet (PDF) and bubble play activity sheet (PDF) have ideas for maths you can use in your setting.

Snack time

Children love to help, so think about the mathematical learning opportunities in a daily routine like preparing the snack table:

  • when halving or quartering fruit, ask the children to tell you how many pieces there are
  • can they tell you whether the pieces are bigger or smaller than each other
  • have a variety of foods, sort them onto plates and ask what's the same or different (for example look, feel and smell)
  • measure capacity together when pouring drinks
  • ask whether you have enough chairs or cups for everyone and if you need to take some away
  • use a visual timetable to sequence the order of events and time.

Stories, rhymes and games

Stories, songs, rhymes and games that have a mathematical content help children understand number systems. Particularly if you give them time to talk, play and practice using numbers. Using your fingers or having objects that the children can see and touch will help too.

This balloon activity sheet (PDF) has extension ideas based on the story, The Blue Balloon, by Mick Inkpen. You can also apply the ideas to other stories that include maths (PDF).

Our Reading in the EYFS page has more ideas for using stories and rhymes.

Physical development

Babies learn about space, shape and size through mouthing, handling and exploring objects. Treasure baskets are a good way of providing opportunities for this.

Older children are more likely to understand mathematical concepts like position and size if they're able to use their body movements and senses to feel what it's like to be in, on or under something. Try our Physical development in the EYFS page for ideas.

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Working with dads, mums and carers

To help parents to support their child's maths skills at home, why not share these free Count with me leaflets? They're full of easy little tips and are broken down into age groups from birth to five years old.

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We offer all sorts of workshops around maths. Check your training programme to see what's available (it changes term to term).

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Contact us

If you'd like more advice or support, contact your Early Education and Childcare Advisor. If you're unsure who this is contact your area advisory team:

  • North east:
  • North west:
  • South east:
  • South west:

Files available to download