Hands on Math – Spatial Concepts

**Before starting these activities, have you tried out these Exploration activities? Do read about how your child can learn Math concepts through a developmental sequence.

Spatial concepts are the relationships between people and objects as well as objects with one another. Children need vocabulary that will help them to describe position, direction and relationships. This vocabulary and the conceptual awareness will be useful when they start to classify and order materials.

Concepts like in front of, behind, top, bottom, over, under, last, between, farthest, backward, in, on, etc. Help us understand directions more precisely, ask detailed questions, and express our ideas to others. For preschoolers, an awareness or understanding of spatial concepts and relationships usually predicts success in Math, Reading and following directions.


Here are the activities for your child to learn Spatial Concepts :

1. Books to Read-aloud that teach Spatial Relationships

SpatialbooksUp, Down and Around – Ayers and Westcott   Rosie’s Walk – Hutchins


2. Obstacle course 


Set up an obstacle course using ropes or boxes. Give directions that emphasize position and direction. For example, “Go under or over the rope,” “Step over the box,” “Walk around the circle”, “Stand inside the circle”.


3. Mummy Says

Direct child’s attention to directional words when playing. e.g., “Mummy says go under the table.”


4. Stackable Snacks


Make sandwiches by spreading butter ON the sandwich, then talk about the bread that is on TOP of the cheese, the ham that is in the MIDDLE and other ingredients at the BOTTOM.


5. Left, Right Prints

Give the child a sheet of construction paper that has been folded in half. Ask the child to dip their right hand in paint and make a print on the right side of the paper. Do the same with the left hand.


6. Spatial Concept Cards


You can print 2 sets of these spatial concept cards  to play matching pairs, or use these animal cutouts to explore spatial relationships. E.g, “Put the dog ON the chair.” “Put the cat into the box” etc


7. Exploring spatial concepts using Manipulatives or LEGO


Create a grid of 9 squares on a piece of paper and give the child 5-10 colours of snap cubes or LEGO pieces of various colours.

  • Provide the child with verbal directional instructions. For example, “Place the red cube ON TOP of the blue cube.” “Place the yellow cube BELOW the red cube” “Put the green cube on the RIGHT of the yellow cube” etc
  • Continue giving directions. Offer the child additional colours for an extra challenge.
Here’s a video on how I did this activity with K when he was 3 years old:


Next on the series of Hands on Math, will be the concept of Classification.

For more articles on Home-Learning for Pre-schoolers, do go to the Directory of Learning articles on this blog.

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Hands on Math – Exploration

**Prior to starting these activities, do read about how your child can learn Math through a developmental sequence.
The concept of exploration will give children concrete experiences to learn about the attributes and properties of materials.
When items used in teaching the child have meaningful context, the child is provided with inferences about math in his/her own world, and it will appeal to the child’s sense of curiosity. These activities will provide the opportunities for the child to use their five senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight, which are also introductory concepts of science. 
Here are the Recommended Picture Book titles that you can use to teach your child the concept of Exploration in Math  :
Math exploration books
Activities :
1)  Water / Sand Play
Water and Sand Play
Materials :  
  • water/sand table or you can use a large plastic tub       
  • assorted containers, funnels, scoops, spoons, measuring cups, strainers
Activity :
  • Encourage the child to explore the characteristics of sand/water using the variety of materials
Words  to use : wet or dry, liquid or solid
2)  Paints
Materials :   
  • paper, wide and narrow paint brushes
  • paints
Activity :
  • Place wide and narrow paint brushes on the table to use, as the child paints
  • Ask the child to describe the different brush strokes
  • Try it with thick and thin paints
Words  to use : thick OR thin 
3) Making music
Materials :  
  • rhythm instruments like drums, triangle, tambourine
Activity :
  • Get the child to play on the instrument and describe what they hear.
Words to use :  Loud or Soft, High or Low 
4)  Scratch and Sniff
Materials :
  • Paper, Paint
  • Strawberry, orange, pandan and lemon extracts
Activity :
  • Mix 1/2 a teaspoon of extract with specific coloured paints; red, orange, green and yellow
  • Let the child paint on the paper
  • When the painting is dry, let the child scratch the paint and smell them
  • Ask him to describe how it smells like.
5) Hot and cold
Materials :   
  • 4-6 Coins
Activity :
  • Ask the child to place the coins in an air conditioned room, in their pocket, near a sunny place, in the fridge and other hot and cool places
  • After a few minutes, let the child touch the coins and describe what they feel.
Words to use : Hot or Cold
6) Making Jelly
Materials :
  • Jelly mix
  • Various shapes of containers

Activity :

  • Prepare the jelly mix according to the instructions on pack
  • Transfer mix into a plastic jug. 
  • Still warm (but not hot), guide your child to pour the mix into the container
  • Bring the liquid state of the jelly mix to his attention
  • Chill the jelly mix in the fridge, once the jelly is ready, highlight the state of the chilled jelly.
Words to use : Liquid or Solid
Note : You can also do this with water and ice, however jelly makes the activity more enjoyable for the child.
My Experience (when K was 2.5 years old) :
All three recommended books above were used to teach K to listen to and visually identify the different animals featured in the book (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), notice the similarites(Little Blue and Little Yellow) and learn to associate the distinctive animal part with the specific animal (The Mixed-Up Chameleon)
These books effectively bridged the concept of exploration with the activities and enhanced K’s interest in the materials used. The first activity of sand/water play garnered the most interest from him, since it was relatively open ended. I could easily introduce other attributes of the material, such as simple volume, weight and measurement concepts. This activity further provided opportunities for pretend play.
Amongst the activities that we explored, we spent the most time in water/sand play. As we progress further with our series in Hands on Math, you will find that the sand/water medium is a very versatile activity that can be used to teach numerous math concepts. 
The rest of the activities were slowly explored the next subsequent days. They were easily implemented and K grasped the concepts and new vocabulary  quickly. By the end of the week, I noticed that he these new words were added to his vocabulary and he could easily demonstrate his understanding of the concepts when asked.

Next on the series on Hands on Math, will be the concept of Spatial Relationships.

For more articles on Home-Learning, go to the directory of Learning articles on this blog. 

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Learning Math

Screen Shot 2015 02 02 at 11 02 01 AMSnap Cubes From Wikipedia 

I did not grow up liking Math.

Maybe I didn’t have a logical mind, or simply I learnt Math by rote and never really understood the principles and foundation of Math concepts.

Research have shown that children who learn Math through rote memorization will advance through the educational system until they reach Primary 3, which is when Math becomes confusing and becomes a difficult subject to manage. It is only then that the parent or the teacher will come to realize that the child never really had a basic understanding of Math in the first place.

Rather than teach Math through rote-memorisation and ‘drilling’ of facts and data, many researchers and educators support greater involvement with Math concepts in the early childhood years through activities that are hands-on (Hunter, 2000), natural (Clements, 2001), have meaning for children (Zanger 1998, Moyer 2000), and come from everyday life (Kilman 1999). Children should be given lots of opportunities to explore Math in the context of play.

Most children start to learn Math through the concept of numbers. This is a useful skill for a child to acquire, in learning to associate meaning with symbols. However, it does not give an indication of true understanding. As many children can count to high numbers, without having a basic understanding of what these numbers represent.


How Parents can Teach your Child Math

To help a child develop a conceptual understanding of Math. Math should be presented in a developmental sequence. Various concepts in Math can be brought across through scaffolding techniques, which will help the child to build a logical sequence of their understanding of the subject.

Screen Shot 2015 02 02 at 11 08 22 AM

Math for a pre-schooler starts with the concept of exploration. Mums can start when their child is at toddler (from 2 years old onwards), and give their child hands-on, concrete experiences to experiment with attributes and properties of materials. Through these exploration experiences, the child will begin to;

1. Recognize similarities, differences, relationships of objects,

2. Then moving to the concept of classification,

3. Classification bridges the concept of patterns,

4. Which develops to the concept of more and less,

5. Then finally reaching number concepts.


Math Concepts through Literature-Based Learning

One of the most effective way I have experienced in teaching a preschooler Math concepts, is through the Literature-Based learning methods. I have used the Math Start Level 1 series of books (which is available for reservation through National Library Board), as well as a range of other titles from different authors.

In this blog series of Hands on Math, I will share hands-on, concrete activity ideas, so as to accompany and illustrate the Math concepts introduced from the recommended titles.

Screen Shot 2015 02 02 at 11 12 04 AM

Here are the concepts that will be covered in the Hands on Math post series on this blog :

1. Exploration

2. Spatial Relationships

3. Classification

4. Patterning

5. One to One Correspondence

6. Ordering

7. Shapes

8. Numeration



Clements, D. 2001. Mathematics in preschool. Teaching Children Mathematics 7 (5): pp 270-278.
Hunter, D. 2000. Bringing Math to life. Academic Exchange Quarterly 4: pp 25.
Kilman, M. 1999. Beyond helping with homework: Parents and children doing mathematics at home. Teaching Children Mathematics 6 (3): pp 140-146.
Moyer, P. 2000. Communicating mathematically: Children’s literature as a natural connection. The Reading Teacher 54: pp 246-258.



For the 1st post of Hands on Math series, go to this post on Exploration

For more articles on Home-Learning, go to the directory of Learning articles on this blog. 

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