Putting the M in STEAM: 5 Ideas for Practical & Fun Maths Activities
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
I feel sad when I hear adults say they can't do maths.
Maybe it's not something you excelled at in school. Maybe calculus isn't your thing. But maths is so much more than that.
Maths is all around us: It's knowing how much change the teenage shop assistant should be giving you; estimating whether you've enough cash for the items in your basket; working out what time dinner will be ready if it needs 35 minutes in the oven; recognising a pattern or symmetry in a design. You might not love doing these things, but most of us can have a decent stab at some kind of maths.
Often, the problem is that we remember maths from school as answering questions on a worksheet which were marked either right or wrong.
And what can be more demoralising than getting things completely wrong? It's no surprise that so many children, and adults (up to a third of us), rate themselves as bad at maths.
What can be more demoralising than getting things completely wrong?
But maths is becoming increasingly important in the top jobs of the future. While I can't control how your child is taught maths at school, I can help you start them on their learning journey thinking maths is fun. Because it can be.
Here are five practical maths activities linked to the different STEAM subjects for you to try at home with children aged 2-5.
Make maths fun and show your little ones that you think maths is fun too (even if you don't!) by joining in with them.
S is for Science: Measuring with Paper Planes
In the early years, children start to compare measurements and learn the words for those comparisons: longest/shortest, longer/shorter, first, second etc.
You can combine fun science around flight with using these comparison words by folding your own paper planes.
Throw a screwed up piece of paper. Ask your child to mark on the floor how far it went. You could mark with tape or an object.
Fold a paper plane. Throw the plane yourself first to show the technique and angle and then mark how far it went. Discuss which went further, traveled the longest way etc.
Let them have a go with the plane and throwing other objects, marking how far each one goes. Use comparison language to talk about the distances traveled. Have a throwing competition.
Extend: Talk about how the shape of the plane lets it travel through the air better (air resistance); discuss how heavy objects are harder to throw than lighter objects (weight); make a table to record how many footsteps/paces each object traveled (measuring and writing numbers).
T is for Technology: Counting & Coding
In the early years children start to count and also use directional language. Coding at this age is really about understanding the use of instructions which is perfect for practicing counting and directions.
Get involved in some fun problem solving to help their favourite teddy or car find its way home.
Set up tape (or chalk) on the floor in a grid pattern.
Set a house (or destination) for your teddy/car at one end.
Put teddy/car at the other end and give instructions to find its way home. E.g. "Teddy, go two squares forward, one square sideways/to the right, then three squares forward."
Extend: Use arrows cut out or draw arrows to write down the full set of instructions (writing code, reading/writing); make the grid more complicated by putting in obstacles or things for the teddy to collect.
E is for Engineering: Patterns with Towers
In the early years, children begin to recognise patterns, continue patterns and create their own.
You can get building with your favourite blocks (duplo/lego etc.) to create repeated patterns.
Put blocks into a tower alternating with two colours (red, blue, red, blue) then ask them to build the next blocks up. You should point at the pattern as you say the colours as the rhythm of the words will help them hear the pattern as well as see it.
Start a pattern with three bricks for them to continue, then four etc.
Ask children to come up with their own patterns to build the tallest pattern tower that they can.
Extend: Use patterns for walls and other buildings to add complexity to their structures; look for symmetrical patterns too.
A is for Arts: Musical Water Volumes
Children love making and playing music and this activity brings together music (that's part of the arts you know 😀 ), science and maths.
Take several identical glasses.
Fill them with different volumes of water and ask children to line them up from emptiest to fullest. Ask them which is the fullest, emptiest etc.
Use a beater or pencil to tap gently on the glasses. Listen for which sounds the highest and the lowest.
Extend: Can they muddle them up and rearrange them listening to the sounds only (pitch) then identify how pitch relates to volume of water i.e. the fullest glass makes the lowest sound; talk about vibrations creating sound - how does the sound change when you hold the glass tight to stop it vibrating; play a tune!
M is for Maths: Sorting Diagrams
One thing I use a lot with my own children and in Little STEAMers is a sorting diagram. Children of this age aren't quite ready for a Venn diagram yet, but marking out some spaces, creating a chart or using hoops to sort objects can make for a really fun game.
Decide what you'd like to sort. Ideas could be: materials (wood/plastic/metal), animals with 4 legs/2 legs, things that float/sink, or colours.
Take a selection of different items and sort them into the correct areas. This can be made more fun by adding a race or scavenger hunt element.
Choose items to sort which require an investigation of their properties. For example sorting by items that float or sink.
Extend: talk about what they'd do if an object came into two categories - could they overlap or put them in both?
I hope you enjoy exploring with one or more of these activities and making maths really fun and practical.
If you'd like to explore STEAM at Little STEAMers, come join us! We're always making maths fun. Your first time with us is free and you can see what we're exploring soon here.