Tag Archives: play

Developing numeracy skills through play

Play is important for developing children’s mathematical abilities and spatial awareness. Piaget suggested that children can develop the ability to conserve through discovery play. For example, when children play with water, they begin to understand that if they pour water from a wide beaker into a long thin beaker, there is still the same amount of water there and when they roll out a ball of playdough into a pancake and then screw it up again, there is the still the same amount of playdough there. Piaget believed the ability to conserve number and volume develops at around 7-years-old.





Parents of young children can also develop numeracy skills through play. They can develop their children’s number sense through talking to them about numbers, money and quantities in everyday life and in play. For example, young children can be encouraged to use scales to understand weight or you can buy games such as ‘The wobbly chef’, which enable children to think about balancing objects. Playing games with numbers such as snakes and ladders gets children to think about the differences between big and small numbers. Even everyday situations can be used to develop an understanding of numbers. Counting sweets out helps children to understand less and more and can lead to an understanding of addition and subtraction. At a higher level, a sandwich can be divided into half and then quarters to develop the concept of fractions. Older children can be encouraged to count their pocket money to work out how much they have to save to buy a certain toy.




Construction toys such as Lego and Megablocks can improve mathematical skills and spatial skills. For example, one study found that children who use toy blocks to construct complex structures at 4-years-old achieved higher scores in mathematics at secondary school (Wolfgang et al., 2001). Parents can build towers with their child and ask them what happens if we put a large block on top of a small block? They can also use the blocks to build castles or ships and incorporate this into pretend play.


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Want to encourage your child to read more? Get ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy easy reader aimed at 7-10 yrs.

How playing can reduce anxiety in children


Research suggests that children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their anxiety levels on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the view that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety.


The case of Dibs, a 5-year old boy who showed very disturbed behaviour shows the importance of play for dealing with issues (Axline, 1947). Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy, for very disturbed behaviour. His parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.


Sloan (1999) examined whether play therapy could be used to reduce aggressive behaviour in children in New York. The study found that play therapy is effective for reducing aggressive behaviour.




How can a parent use play at home to deal with anxiety?


Parents can use toy figures and role play to work through fears and other issues with their children. For example, if your child is worried about going to the doctors, you can role play doctors with them or encourage them to play doctors with their dolls or teddies. If your child is frightened of the dark, you can pretend that a toy figure is being put to bed in the dark and your child can talk about their fears. Another toy figure can be used to dispel fears. Any monsters or ghosts that turn up in the role play can be changed into something non-threatening. You can get your child to imagine what the toy figures/dolls would do if they were very brave (Jay et al., 1987).



Want to read more about parenting? Download my free parenting ebook.


Want your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy  adventure story aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds.