Learning Maths Incidentally

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

Mathematical Language:  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 them with mathematical language.

You can add more people and differing vegetables as your child becomes more capable as the example below illustrates.


For example children can cut beans into two equal pieces with a butter knife (if you're supervising them) saying that both parts need to be the same size or fair sized.


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

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. And the pieces are too big to eat that way. 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. And if we push them back together they make one whole pizza... But the pieces are still too big. Let's cut the pieces in half again. Now we've cut our pizza into eight pieces. Each one of these parts is called an eighth. And if we put it all back together it's one whole pizza again. And the pieces are all the same size so it's fair."

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.

Including your children while cooking, gardening or building utilizes your time well 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

  • utilize your time well. It gives you insight into what they already know so you can pitch language and activities accurately

Lets look at preparing a simple meal of meat and five types of vegetables.


While preparing the food you can provide simple opportunities for comparison of size, counting, multiplication, division and fractions.


Mathematical Language Development: 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 Development: fractions

Continuing on: "I'm going to cut a potato in half... But if I put them back together there is a whole potato again. What if I cut these halves in half. That means each piece is 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 Development: 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

Take one half of the bean. "Now if you cut each piece in half again then you'll have quarters. Now see here that two quarters equals a half a bean. And four quarters equals a whole bean."

You can substitute a variety of vegetables and fruit as your child's abilities increase.

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

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, then twenty, then thirty, then one hundred, then one thousand.

​And to help make maths more meaningful for your child, you can reinforce new concepts using real things 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

"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

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

Fun Maths Games 3-5 Year Olds
Fun Maths Games for 5-7 Year Olds
Fun Maths Games 7-8 Year Olds
Show More
Beginning Mathematics
Children learn incidentally
The Importance of Counting
Tuna Pesto Pasta
The True Value of Routines
Dad providing a role model for brushing his teeth
Show More

Best Parenting is a high quality parenting website designed with child and family success in mind. It highlights what successful parents do differently to those who struggle. Best Parenting provides free online resources for busy parents who want the best practical advice on: how to give kids a best start in life, better tips for parenting toddlers, effective child rearing strategies, behaviour management tips, successful goal setting and organizational strategies for successful families, easy family dinner recipes, self-care tips for time-poor parents and free kids learning games. The aim of Best Parenting is to provide quality practical parenting tips and advice to best help children and families succeed, using the convenience of a website.

This website provides examples of what worked for me over decades and you are welcome to use these ideas as you see fit but you do so at your own risk. Best Parenting does not provide any guarantee that this information will work in every circumstance with every family or with every child. It is your responsibility as a user of this website to ensure that you adhere to any recommended safety suggestions either implicit or explicit on this site and supervise your children while playing any games suggested. Similarly users of this website are advised to follow any recommendations for seeking professional advice as all information on this site is generic. Best Parenting is an independent website and is not affiliated with any other groups, clubs, religious organizations or educational systems.


Best parenting takes time. The best parenting advice ever is simple: Do your best, don't give up and love your children, no matter what.

by Multi-Award Winning Educator. Early Learning Expert. Author. Illustrator.

©2019   ​Australia