Incorporating Numbers into Everyday Life

This post is by regular contributor Ali Wright of At Home with Ali.

My 4 year old daughter is interested in pretty much everything except numbers. She absolutely refuses to play any sort of number recognition or maths based game. Even asking her to name the number on a letterbox can make her annoyed and upset. It recently got to the point where I was concerned that she did not recognise any numbers at all.

I tried all sorts of fun number games that I found on Pinterest but these just annoyed her and exasperated me. So I decided to stop torturing both of us and give it a rest…. and then I stumbled across a different approach. I stopped trying to interest her in number games and instead I started to incorporate numbers into our everyday activities. This technique is called authentic learning, where learning has a real-world context.

Here are some of the things I did:

number activities for preschoolers

All kids love pushing buttons so I put my daughter in charge of melting the butter in the microwave when we were baking. She would pop the butter in the microwave and ask, “How long mummy?” I randomly selected numbers for her to try… “5 seconds”, she would take her time to find ‘5’, turn on the microwave and then check the butter and report back… “it isn’t melted yet, how long now?” “Try 7 seconds” and on we would go until the butter was melted.

Notably, she would always have a stab at choosing the right number. She did not get annoyed or upset that I had asked her to identify a number, she was totally focused on melting the butter. I also discovered that she did know some numbers and had trouble with others… particularly 6 and 9. Funnily enough this technique worked so well that we actually started baking more. Now we are working with double digit numbers on the microwave.

While we are cooking, I also place our recipe book in a prominent position. She is happy to watch and listen as I go through how many cups or tablespoons we need of this and that because it is in the context of cooking.

preschool math activities

The Clock
My daughter has a large numbered clock hanging above her daily quiet time space. Each day I choose a different number on this clock to mark the end of quiet time… “You can come down to the kitchen when the arm is on ‘3.’” Sometimes she asks me to point out the number and sometimes she knows straight away. She did catch me off guard once: I told her she could come out when the arm was on ‘1’ and she came skipping out when it had got to ’11’…..”but 11 has a 1 in it, mummy!”

Out and About
When we are out driving I often ask my daughter to keep an eye out for the numbered highway/freeway signs. She loves this: “Here comes a green sign mummy… it’s the M5.” This sort of number recognition has a purpose in her eyes – she is helping me. I do the same thing in the supermarket, “Look out for aisle 2, it has the cake decorations.”

number math activities for preschoolers

Start looking and you will find it easy to incorporate numbers into everyday life. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Finding the numbers on the phone handset/mobile to call a family member or friend.
  • Looking at the numbers on speed signs.
  • Checking a bus number or how many minutes until the next train comes.
  • Finding the next number on an advent calendar.
  • Crossing off  dates on a calendar in anticipation of an event.
  • Helping a younger child identify numbers in baby number-based board books.
  • Looking at prices on favourite foods in the supermarket.
  • Weighing fruit and vegetables at the greengrocer.
  • Finding and pushing buttons in elevators.

Do you have any other suggestions for incorporating number recognition into everyday life?


  1. Great post 🙂

    I like to have a count-down for lots of things. eg. “we’re leaving out the door in 10 seconds. 10..9..8…” etc. “Bed time in T minus 10..9…8..” etc
    Packing up toys is a good time to talk about numbers. “Look, only 3 blocks left to pick up.” “Can you please pick up 10 pieces of paper off the floor and pop them in this rubbish bin?” etc
    Shopping there are tons of numbers and opportunities to talk about numbers. Talking about how many bananas you’re buying in the bunch to helping them spend 1 dollar etc.

    You’ve mentioned all the other things I could think of off the top of my head.. the TV remote..? haha 🙂

    1. Thanks Debs, great suggestions. I love your countdowns “we’re leaving… in 10 seconds”, that might encourage us all to get out the door a little more quickly 🙂

  2. My 4 yo loves candy, which I have come to use as a reward for certain behaviors. He enjoys counting out how many pieces of candy he can eat & how many are left. 🙂

    1. Debi, now I am sure my daughter would love to do that. She loves candy and chocolate too.

  3. Great ideas here!

    My daughter really became obsessed with a calculator. For a while, I think that she believed it was a phone, and “dialed” numbers obsessively. Soon, we played games where I would call out numbers and she would plug them into her calculator.

    Deb’s suggestions about incorporating numbers into “helping” scenarios have been big for us too. Asking her to pick five apples for the bag, or pick up three toys from the floor, etc.

    Our stumbling blocks come with the double-digit numbers. I don’t want 12 apples. I don’t need 16 cans of corn. I’m going to have to get creative here.

  4. Thanks Tara, I love your idea about call out numbers to plug into a calculator, that would work really well for my daughter. I am going to try it out. We are moving into double-digits too, cooking in the microwave has been useful for that. We have also started to look at license plate numbers together.

  5. Lovely! It’s really not about “incorporating numbers into everyday life” but noticing, and calling attention to, just how much a part of everyday life number and numerals really ARE! Far fewer people would have math phobia or wonder why math is relevant if we paid more attention.

    1. That is so true Grace. Numbers are everywhere.

  6. That’s exactly what we do Ali. I must say that the microwave has been the best for learning to count backwards too. Miss Possum LOVEs doing it!

    1. Aha backward counting – I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for the tip Penny.

  7. For my sons, street signs were a great way to get them recognising numbers. They love to call out to me what the speed limit is and check that I am not speeding. Interestingly, my older son had the same feeling as your daughter but about learning letter names and sounds.

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