Help Your Budding Mathematician Using 1 Everyday Item

Early maths concepts are about observing mathematical concepts in everyday life. They should be explored through conversations between parent and child and playing with concrete materials.

My go-to-toy for all ages that can encourage these conversations and play? 

Measuring/stacking/nesting cups. They are one of the cheapest items to purchase and yet provide a plethora of play possibilities and in particular, some great early maths learning. 

If you have them in your house but have never really considered ‘what’ they could be beyond stacking and nesting, then check out the list below for some new ideas.


Rolling races:

Show your child how to make the cup roll along the ground. Challenge them to make the cups have a race. Introduce words like further, closer, furthest, closest. Encourage your child to label the colour of the cup. Older children could even consider if the size of the cup makes a difference to how far it rolls. For younger children and babies you can simply roll the cup and repeat the word ‘roll, roll, roll’.


Spinning tops:

Cups can also be placed on their side and spun. Count how long the cup spins for before it stops.

You can also count down from 3 before you start the cup spinning, allowing your child a chance to practise both the forward and backward number sequence from three or five.

For younger children and babies you can make the cup spin and then simply say ‘spin, spin, spin’. Older children can be encouraged to consider if the size of cup affects how long it will spin for, and can also be challenged to try and spin the cup with their other hand.


Bath time fun:

Giving your child time to explore cups in the bath that can be filled and emptied is great for developing early measurement concepts. Use words like full, empty, fill it up, tip it out, pour it in, pour it out. Older children can even be encouraged to consider capacity by filling up a large and small cup and then tipping one into the other. You can then ask questions about the activity to develop your child’s early and informal understanding of capacity.


Bath time restaurant:

Cups in the bath can also be great for pretend play. A restaurant or shop is a favourite in our house. You can ‘order’ and then the child makes and serves the order. In our house the orders are usually for smoothies, ice creams or coffees. We even ask ‘how much please?’, with the kids replying ‘two dollars’.

Sometimes even 10x scoops of ice cream are ordered and then ‘pretend’ eaten as we count down from ten until the dish is ‘all finished’. This has proven to be a great way to expose the kids to the number sequence from ten as well as encouraging language development - ordering, serving, charging etc.


Sorting time:

Cups are also great for sorting activities. If you have coloured cups then collect a basket of different coloured items that the kids can sort into the correct coloured cup. Each group of items can then be counted to decide how many are in the group. You can also extend this activity by creating a simple pattern with the coloured items e.g. red, blue, red, blue, red, blue - support your child to finish off the pattern.

For older children you can let them explore small kitchen tongs and use these to pick up the items and sort them into the cups.


Hide and seek:

Turn the cups upside down and hide different items underneath. If you provide your child with an array of items of differing sizes then you can have a conversation about what items will ‘fit’ under certain cups and maybe be ‘too small’ or ‘too big’ for other cups.


Hope you have some stacking cup fun this week and if you don’t have a set, grab some the next time you do a shop. From baby to primary school they can provide so many possibilities for fun.


Your Hands-On Helper,


Rach x