Ideas for Mathematical Play Linked to Julia Donaldson Stories

If you’re a regular reader of my Blog, you will know we’re huge Julia Donaldson fans and after a visit to her exhibition, I was literally bursting with play inspiration.  So far I have written posts for Outdoor Games with Julia D books, Story Telling Play and now this focuses on Mathematical development.  Mathematical development is often seen as boring or hard but just like Literacy, Maths should be fun for young children and done in a playful way.  These ideas cover: number recognition, value of number, counting objects and amounts, symmetry, capacity, non-standard measurements, comparison and length. Before we played any of these games, we began by having a cuddle and reading the story together.

Ideas for Mathematical Play With Julia Donaldson Stories Precious Play

Activity 1

Book: One Ted Falls Out of Bed 

Focus: Number recognition, value and counting

You will need:

  • A simple drawing of each of the stages in the book (1 ted, 2 eyes, 3 mice, 4 cars, 5 stars, 6 dolls, 7 trolls, 8 balloons, 9 frogs and 10 blocks)
  • Salt (or sugar, cous cous, sand, rice)
  • Pastry brush
  • Numbers (1-10)
  • Tray
  • Copy of the book

Maths Detective One Ted Falls out of bed

After drawing the characters (very basically) I laid them out in a roasting tray and covered them with salt, hiding them all from sight.

Maths Detective One Ted Falls out of bed.jpg2

I told J he had to use his detective brush to sweep away the dust and look for the clues, very gently. As he uncovered clues, he was to remove them from the tray and solve the mystery.

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J then counted the characters on the card with his finger. I always encourage J to touch and point when he counts as this helps with one-to-one correspondence and helps him to remember to count each one.

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The next step in the game was finding the correct number, so once J had counted 7 trolls, he looked for the number 7.  That meant the problem was solved! What a good detective! Winking smile

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There is still a teacher in me and all fellow teachers will know that it’s good practice to encourage children to self assess and see how they’ve done! So, on the back of the cards, I had written the number e.g. 7 trolls.  This meant J could turn the card over and see if he was correct! Thus, assessing himself!

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J loved this activity and was in character as he uncovered the clues and solved the mystery of the hidden characters!

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He managed to count and match all of the numbers correctly and I was delighted with him!

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Activity 2

Book: Julia Donaldson Activity Books

Focus: Number recognition, value and counting

You will need:

  • The stickers from the Activity Books (Any of them)
  • Card with numbers written on ( J had the numbers 1-14)

My Own Maths Cards

All J had to do was look at the number on the card and peel and stick the correct number of stickers onto the card.

My Own Maths Cards.jpg2

Obviously this is a Mathematical activity but it’s still good for his fine motor development too!

My Own Maths Cards.jpg3

As J completed each card, he counted the stickers to check he had stuck the correct amount on.  Sometimes, he had made a mistake and this was a great learning opportunity to talk about whether we had too many or not enough and how many we needed to take off or add on!

My Own Maths Cards.jpg4

Like any 3 year old, J often leaves and comes back to games we play and that is MORE than okay for him to do! I NEVER force J to complete a game, he can stay as long as he wants  to. J did 1-6 and then said, ‘can we play some more tomorrow Mummy?’  I believe it would be so wrong and damaging to force him into it and I know he’ll come back to it when he is ready. Forcing J to play would only put him off learning and I that is the opposite to what I want for him.

My Own Maths Cards.jpg5


Activity 3

Book: A Squash and a Squeeze

Focus: Capacity and measure

You will need:

  • Empty containers with lids
  • Mixture of dry rice, lentils and couscous
  • Measuring scoops
  • Spoon
  • Scoop
  • Pompoms
  • A copy of the book

Squash and Squeeze Maths Game

I labelled the two pots, one was labelled ‘squash’ and the other ‘squeeze.’  I left this activity completely open ended and just told J what the labels said and left him to it.  J immediately started scooping and tipping and explored the tiny scoop to see how much it would take to ‘fill it to the top.’  Just look at the tongue sticking out! Love it!

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After tipping the rice, lentils etc into the ‘squeeze’ tub, he tried ‘squeezing’ the pompoms in to make sure the tub was full.

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There was lots of tipping and exploring with all of the tubs and measures and naturally lots of talking…

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After lots of squashing and squeezing, J ended up sorting the two tubs into ‘one for pompoms and one for food!’

Squash and Squeeze Maths Game.jpg11

Activity 4

Book: Super Worm

Focus: Length, comparison, non-standard measure

You will need:

  • Play dough
  • Home-made play dough mat

To make the matt, I cut out 4 simple wiggly worms all at different lengths. I stuck them to some black card and laminated it.  Again, I didn’t give J any explanation about what to do. I just put it in front of him.  To begin with he broke the play dough into small pieces and put it in sections along the worms.  He said he was ‘measuring it with play dough measure.’  As I’d put the patterns on the worms, he used this as a ‘section’ and ripped bits of play dough off it it didn’t fit.

Superworm Size and Comparison

He also carefully rolled out ‘sausage’ shapes and broke off or added bits accordingly to fit the size of the worms. He talked about the biggest/longest and shortest and middle sized.  He made patterns in the play dough with his fingers which is great for motor development.  I’m going to extend this activity further and make the worms into shapes, triangle, square and so on to that J can manipulate the play dough into the shapes. I will also just have a super long Superworm in swirly shapes.

Superworm Size and Comparison.jpg2


Activity 5

Book: What the Ladybird Heard 

Focus: Number value, counting and symmetry

You will need:

  • Play dough
  • A home-made play dough mat

To make this mat, I simply drew out a ladybird shape (without the spots) and coloured it in. I stuck it on to some black card and laminated it.

What the Ladybird Heard Maths

I told J that the Ladybirds spots had been stolen by Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len (from the story) and J needed to help her get them back.  J rolled balls and stuck them on the ladybird. I said to try and stick them on the opposite side in the same place so that we could talk about symmetry (at a very basic level!)  J counted how many spots the Ladybird had and then scrunched the play dough up and started again.

What the Ladybird Heard Maths.jpg2

What did J learn?

  • number recognition
  • value of number
  • counting objects and amounts
  • symmetry
  • capacity
  • non-standard measurements
  • comparison and length


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