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Learning Maths Incidentally

There are many maths learning opportunities available in routine daily life.

This page contains the following information:

How to link Mathematical Language to Mathematical Concepts in real life situations during cooking, gardening or building activities

Decorating Easter Eggs

Mathematical Language can easily be introduced while cooking: 

Full, empty, more, less, half, quarters, same, how many left, take away, equals, how many altogether, lots of, etc. 

And as my children got older I introduced even more specific terminology such as: plus, minus, increase, decrease, times, multiply, solution, divide, total, remainder, etc

 If you're cooking a meal with children, you have many opportunities to teach maths concepts, because you're using real things to reinforce any new mathematical language. And the best thing is... You're doing it anyway.


You can increase the difficulty of concepts, and the language used, as your child becomes more capable.


For example children can cut beans into two equal pieces with a butter knife (if you're supervising them.)


Again you can reinforce this with mathematical terminology. "You cut it in half. But if you put it back together you have a whole bean again..."

Colorful Food

Something as simple as dividing up pizza can be a great way of introducing mathematical language.

Mathematical Language Development: Division

Half, quarters and eighths are really easy to illustrate and show the concepts of parts of a whole and also equivalent fractions.

For example: "First of all we're going to cut our pizza in half. See there are two pieces. But that's no use because there are four of us. So let's cut each piece in half again. Now that's four pieces and they're all the same so it's fair. We call each of those pieces a quarter. But the pieces are still too big. Let's cut the pieces in half again. How many is that?


Now we've cut our pizza into eight pieces. Each one of these parts is called an eighth. And if we put all eight pieces back together, it's one whole pizza again. And the pieces are all the same so it's fair."

Healthy assortment of yellow foods

And you can show the way the text is recorded on the page reinforcing to your child that text contains meaning. And you can identify some of the numerals used in a recipe.

Magazine and Coffee

Including your children while cooking, gardening, or building, maximizes the use of your time and can:

  • expose children to the language of mathematics and mathematical concepts in meaningful ways

  • reinforce new knowledge, with real items, making it more likely to be retained

  • give you insight into what they already know so you can pitch language and activities accurately

Let's look at preparing a simple meal of meat and five types of vegetables, to see how mathematics can be included.


While preparing meals you can provide simple opportunities for comparison of size, counting, multiplication, division and fractions. E.g:


Mathematical Language: Size

"Altogether we need four middle-sized potatoes to cut up." You and your child can work out which are the middle-sized ones.


This creates an interesting discussion in itself about smaller, longer, wider, shorter, bigger, biggest, smallest, etc

Mathematical Language: Fractions

Continuing on: "I'm going to cut a potato in half... But if I put them back together there is a whole one again. What if I cut these halves in half? Each piece is now called a quarter, but if I put them all back together they make a whole potato again."


Reinforce the concepts with real items

Mathematical Language: Multiplication

"Dad wants three pieces of potato and I want three pieces of potato too." Make the examples. "That means 2 lots of three potatoes for us... That equals how many altogether?" 


Put the two amounts of potatoes together. "There are some left over." Point to the remaining two pieces of potato. That means there is one piece of potato for you and one for your brother. Is that enough for you or do you need more?"

Mathematical Language Development: Whole and fractions of a whole

Take one half of the bean. "Now if you cut each piece in half again then you'll have quarters."


Now two of those quarters equals half a bean. And four quarters equals a whole bean again. Can you make it look like a whole bean again?"

Looking at the concept of fairness is a great one to underpin the concept of equal division because children are very  good at picking discrepancies; especially if they're the one receiving less.

Homemade Pizza

Mathematical Language Development: Equivalent Fractions

Arrange the pieces " Now if Daddy has two eights and I have two eighths. That means half of the pizza is gone already. How much is left for you and your brother? If it's going to be fair how many pieces will you each get?


That's right you'll each get two eights. So if we take yours away how much is left for your brother. Its two eighths or a quarter. So two eights and a quarter are the same thing.'

You can adapt the language you use according to the age and interest of your children. But if you're dividing a popular food equally your child's interest is naturally going to be high.

The biggest advantage of incorporating mathematics into your meal preparation is that you're doing it anyway. And you do it regularly.

The division of chocolate is another great way of illustrating fractions and because they have to be fair amounts, you're teaching equivalent fractions at the same time.


For example: One strip of chocolate can be divided into two equal parts or four smaller ones. Yet if you put them back together, they make one strip again. See if your child can divide the parts fairly and use the appropriate terminology. The possibilities are endless.

And as your children grow you can extend this with written recipes where you are using fractions as an integral part of the process. Here again you can extend your child's language of comparison.

There are also many mathematical opportunities available for a child while working on a building project with mum or dad. Or while working in the garden.


You'll need to pitch your questions according to your child's abilities. Then stage them over years beginning with simple counting activities to five, then ten... twenty... thirty... one hundred, then one thousand.

To make maths meaningful, reinforce new concepts using real things, and in real life situations.

"Can you please pass me three of the longest nails..." Comparison

"How many nails do I have left?" Subtraction

"I need fifteen screws, do I have enough?" Real Counting

"Do I have more nails or more screws left?"

Conservation of Number

Carpenter Tools
Growing Plants

For more mathematical ideas and fun learning maths games go to:

"How many pots/ seeds do I have?" Counting


"We need to plant four seeds in each pot. How many lots of four are there?"

Extension example: "That means five lots of four equals twenty." Multiplication

"I have twenty seeds. If I put two seeds in each pot. How many pots can I fill? Let's see." Division

Did you know when helping children learn pitching activities to their levels of proximal development is important:

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