Math Learning Throughout the Daily Routine

by HighScope | April 20, 2021

HighScope Program Music

Early math learning can sometimes feel daunting for both teachers and young children. Let’s take a trip through the preschool daily routine and find where math learning opportunities turn up. We might discover that there are many ways to cement children’s understanding of basic math concepts by providing them with a variety of materials in different contexts that give them the time and opportunity to grow their ideas, develop their understanding, and increase their math fluency.


Many preschools gather first thing in the morning to greet each other, take attendance, discuss what they might do that day, and anticipate upcoming events. In HighScope classrooms, this is when children and teachers gather to read the message board, which supports children’s developing language and math skills in meaningful ways.

Greeting Time Math Activities:

  • Children may read numerals on the message board.
  • Children may count the number of links on a paper chain until the last day of school or the number of candles drawn on a cake for someone’s birthday.
  • Together, you can count and graph the number of children present vs. absent.


When children make predictions (planning) and assess outcomes (recall), they are building a foundation for mathematical and scientific thinking. The planning process goes well beyond a child’s choice about what they want to do; it also involves deciding on actions and predicting interactions, recognizing problems and proposing solutions, and anticipating consequences and reactions. Many of these strategies incorporate math concepts such as numbers, spatial relations, and measurement.

Planning or Recall Time Math Activities:

  • Show the children a large die with numerals 1–4 on it. Have each child roll the die and say the number of materials they will use/used; the number of areas they plan to play in/played in; or the number of plans they will do/did at work time.
  • Put the symbol and name of each interest area on the sections of a round piece of cardboard that has three clothespins with the numerals 1, 2, and 3 on them. Ask the children to put the clothespins on where they will play first, second, and third, and then ask them to explain what they will do in each area.
  • Draw a very simple map of the classroom that has the symbol and name of each interest area highlighted. Give the children a small toy car (or dog, person, truck, etc.) to drive to the area where they want to play or to the area where they already played.


Work time promotes children’s natural need to explore, experiment, invent, construct, and pretend — in other words, to play!  Mathematical concepts that children discover, explore, repeat, and experiment with can be observed during work time in every interest area, as these anecdotes illustrate:

  • Josslyn counts the movie tickets using a number word for each ticket.
  • PJ makes a sign for his store that says “Cars 5, Trucks 5, Dolls 8, Food 7.”
  • Betsy runs out of square Magna-Tiles but finds two triangles that fit together to make a square.
  • Nygel needs a roof for his barn. He tries using one of the baby blankets. When he sees that it’s too small, he tries the shower cur­tain, which works because it is bigger.
  • Irvin and Fatima are playing with the pegs and pegboards. Irvin says, “Mine is taller.”
  • At snacktime, Emily says, “I want all the pretzels but none of the raisins.”
  • At small-group time, Omari uses a measuring tape and says his tower is 10 steps long. The teacher helps him count the number of blocks in the tower and he says, “I have 12 blocks and it is longer than Selina’s.”


Large-group time activities include singing, making music, mov­ing and dancing, storytelling, story reenacting, and more. Any of these activities may offer opportunities for children to hear and use math vocabulary, particularly words related to spatial relations, measuring, and numbers.

Large-Group Time Math Activities:

  • As children move around an obsta­cle course, you might hear something like “I’m getting down low to crawl under there,” “Turn it upside down and let’s walk on top of it,” or “Go faster! I’m going to fall off!”
  • While singing counting songs such as “Ten in the Bed,” children may respond to different parts of the song with comments such as “Two dinosaurs fell out,” “Six monkeys are left,” or “When Jamal rolls out, there’ll be no monkeys left in the bed.
  • When playing a movement game, children may make math observations such as “I landed on a triangle this time — that means I turn around,” or “Micky’s standing on one foot because he’s on a circle.”
  • While children are dancing and moving, you might hear someone say, “It took me five long steps to go across the circle. I wonder how many small steps it will take.”


During small-group time, children make choices about how to play with materials, use language to communicate their ideas, and solve problems encountered while using materials. The mathematical concepts that children learn about during small-group time depend on the teacher’s plan and the nature of the materials they have chosen. Here are just a few examples of what you might hear children say during different small-group time activities.

While creating aluminum foil sculptures:

  • “I ripped mine in half.”
  • “Kacey, here’s a triangle package for you!”
  • “I scrunched it and made a ball.”

 While making play dough pizza:

  • “I made the pizza pieces into squares.”
  • “Jakob, mine is the hugest pizza ever. Can you help me measure it?”
  • “Oh, I don’t want rectangles on my pizza!”
  • “Only yellow triangles and red circles.”

 When finding numbers in the newspaper:

  • “I got a big red 4! That’s my number!”
  • “This one has 1, 2, 3, all in a row.”
  • “This basketball player has a 2 and a 7 on his shirt.”


Learning does not stop when children go through the door to outside time. The outdoors is a complete learning environment — an open-air annex to the classroom where all the same concepts are explored.

Among other things, children continue to explore mathematical concepts as they

  • Count acorns.
  • Negotiate who will be first (and second) on the swings.
  • Run a race to determine who finishes in first, second, and third place.
  • Discover shapes in unexpected places.
  • Specu­late which of the balls will reach the bottom of the hill first


The emphasis during mealtimes and snacktimes is on social interaction. It is important for adults to sit down to eat with children because it provides time for them to share casual conversation, rather than focus on specific academic skills (although it is a time when teaching and learning activities occur naturally).

Here are some examples that illustrate this point:

  • When it is Sascha’s turn to pass out the plates for lunch, he is involved in one-to-one correspondence of matching plates to the people who will be eating.
  • As soon as Alana pours her scoop of snack mix on her napkin, she begins sorting it by ingredient. When she is finished, she counts each pile to see which has the most pieces.
  • Curtis looks over at Allie’s glass of milk and comments, “You have more milk than me; yours goes all the way up to the line.”


During cleanup time, children and adults work together to return materials to their storage spaces and, when appropriate, put away or find display space for children’s personal creations. You will be surprised at the abilities and math concepts that children learn during cleanup time!

Cleanup Time Math Activities:  

  • As children put away objects in their assigned spaces, they are noticing rela­tionships such as length, thickness, position, and quantity.
  • Children see that objects are ordered by size when they put the small, medium, and large pots away on a shelf marked with small, medium, and large outlines indicating where the pots go.
  • Children consider number concepts when they notice there are three kinds of paint­brushes; each with its own container, as well as when they see that a marker corresponds to a hole on the marker holder.

As you can see, learning opportunities in mathematics occur naturally throughout the daily routine. However, it is crucial that all children have experiences in which mathematics is the primary learning focus in addition to sustained and frequent times in which they themselves enact core mathematical content (e.g., number, geometry, and measurement) and talk about what they are doing and why they are doing it.


Shop Related Resources!

Big Beats for Young Peeps
Big Beats for Young Peeps