Math Play Mat

What Is It?

A math play mat includes a ten frame, a two-row rekenrek and a pocket full of felt shapes. These are great portable toys, I’ve personally played on the floor of a conference center, at a cafe, and in a living room.

Kids can play with each part separately or make connections using multiple representations. Can you see how the beads and the shapes match in this photo?

This toy grows with children as they learn to count, and then learn to represent situations using mathematical operations. For example, the answers to these questions may all be different depending on what skills they’ve mastered:
  • Can they count the shapes in a pile?
  • Can they count the shapes organized in a ten frame?
  • Can they count the beads by pointing to each one?
  • Can they count the beads by sliding each one?
Seeing where kids are and how they grow can be fun. Another place for growth was one kiddo could find me a square, and could also find me a green shape, but finding a green square was too much. I hadn’t thought about how much harder searching for two characteristics simultaneously was until I was gifted a green shape that wasn’t a square! Look for things kids can do, but also ask them to do things they can’t do yet, because you’ll never know when they add new levels of understanding without challenging them.

Can I Buy One?

Yes! These items are currently in stock and I take requests – let me know your favorite colors and I’ll see what I can do. Contact me with a tweet or email.

They cost $25 each. If you’re looking to buy a bunch (a class set perhaps?) and that’s cost prohibitive let me know, I’m considering designing some options with different bases; if I can find something faster than crocheting the cost can come down correspondingly.

Standard warning that this toy contains small parts, the ends of pipe cleaners are sharp, and the seller is not responsible for any injury which may occur.

Stories and Games

My favorite way to start playing is to say, “Oh look! There are shapes in this pocket!” while dumping them out and then letting the child decide what to do next. There is no wrong way to interact with a math play mat, whatever they choose to do next is fantastic. If the child is shy (as was the case with my beta testers) or you just can’t resist the temptation of sensory play with felt shapes (I’m right there with you) – you can start by putting two shapes together and asking “Do these match?”

Here are some things we’ve tried:

  • Match my shape.
  • Sort all the shapes.
  • Name my shape. (Some are standard shapes but others kids have named flowers or snowflakes. Which leads to – what’s the difference between a flower and a snowflake?)
  • Can you find a ____? (Green shape? Square? Green square?)
  • Put things in the pocket and take them out.
  • Move the beads so the top row matches the bottom.
  • Count the beads.
  • Count the shapes.
  • How many ____? (Count, cover, how many are hidden? How many more to fill the squares?)
  • Comparisons (are there more purple or green?)
  • Decorate mom with the shapes.
  • Put the shapes in the ten frame.
  • Make a pattern in the ten frame.

I got to play in a cafe one afternoon with Soraya and her mom Jenna. At one point Soraya made a joke that turned into a pattern. She announced she was going to make groups of four. So she put one shape down in the ten frame saying “one.” Then she put another shape down and said “four!” And giggled. This small human who’s still working out how the numbers go after 10 knew full well that saying four after one was unexpected and would make us laugh. So of course Jenna and I laughed! And Soraya continued saying one then four until she was laughing so hard she couldn’t talk. It was adorable, I’m grinning just remembering it. And it gets better! When we recovered from laughing, Jenna and I got instructions to make new number patterns. I was supposed to say one, then say fifteen, as I put shapes in the squares. Jenna and I started strategically picking shapes to go with the numbers we were supposed to say (like green for one and yellow for fifteen). Soraya picked up on what we were doing and made lots of rules.