Children love imaginative play. Playing shop is a favourite game for toddlers through to late primary school aged children. But for some, the game can get boring for them very quickly. Add some extra spark to keep ‘playing shop’ interesting and you’ll be amazed at the educational benefits which can be derived. While playing this common game you can enhance your children’s mathematical thinking, numeracy and measurement skills. Enabling your children to gain an appreciation for maths in everyday life and helping them to feel comfortable thinking mathematically is a gift that starts with adding maths to playtime.

Task 1: Arranging items in order

  • Items in the shop need to be arranged in order from largest to smallest or tallest to shortest.

Josh4 You can even do this activity to occupy your child in the kitchen while you are cooking. Take a few items out of the fridge and pantry and start by asking your child to find the smallest or shortest item. Ask them to find the next smallest item and place it next to the first item. Build your child’s understanding of size difference with examples like, “I’m bigger and taller than you. Is there anything bigger or taller than that item?” Continue until your child has ordered all the items. Once they’re done, move along the line, tapping each item and using words like smallest, small, medium, tall, taller, taller, tallest. Here you will be enhancing your child’s vocabulary and teaching them key skills in language as well as mathematics.

  •  Items in the shop need to be arranged in order from heaviest to lightest

josh7With a slightly older or advanced child you can put your kitchen scales on the floor with the items and ask your child to order the items from lightest to heaviest. This task will further develop their critical thinking and memory as they will need to remember what the previous item weighed in order to decide where to put the next item in the line. You might observe them first sorting the items by size to help them estimate their order and if not, this could be a starting strategy you could prompt them with.

  • Items in the shop need to be arranged in order from most expensive to least expensive.

With small sticky labels decide on prices for the items in your shop and then ask your child to order the items by value.

Task 2: Grouping items

  • Items in the shop need to be arranged into groups

 Each time you play shop, start by setting up the shop and decide on different ways to group the items. Use different categories and different criteria to sort the shop items before you begin to play. Soon this ritual will become part of the game and often the most fun. You can sort according to size, shape, colour, food group or any other feature your child can distinguish.

josh8Grouping ‘like’ things together is about noticing if something is the same or different and ‘sorting things’ is about classifying. These skills will help children to describe the difference between objects rather than just describing how things look. They will begin to compare objects, deciding what they have in common to link them together. Sorting and classifying supports children being able to describe, notice difference and learn new vocabulary. It is also one of the first stages of mathematical thinking and problem solving. One of the first stages in Algebra which children are introduced to in early high school is grouping ‘like’ things together, which leads to simplifying equations. This is merely an abstract version of sorting the weekly shopping into groups. Knowing that you are introducing your child to algebraic concepts can help break down the barrier that many adults put up when they hear the word algebra. If we can start our children off with the foundations and the belief that algebra is not a scary word, then we can do wonders for their future Mathematics education.

Being able to order and seriate objects based on one criteria is an important skill in mathematical thinking

There are more tasks in this series – keep your eye out for Play Shop With a Twist Part 2.

Please continue to share these activities via email, on facebook, twitter and pinterest with your friends and family so that more people can enjoy the fun while learning great ideas to add maths to play.