Math Materials for Discovery-based Learning

Math Materials for Inquiry Based Learning - An Everyday StoyBase Ten Set | EasyRead Clock  (here for Aust stockist) | Scales | Wooden Abacus | Magnetic Shapes | Wooden Geometric Solids | Dice | Montessori Large Wooden Number Cards (here for Aust stockist) | Montessori Sandpaper Numbers  (here for Aust stockist) | Calculator | Transparent Geometric Solids | Tape Measure | Tangram Puzzle | Magnetic Easel | Geometry Set

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With the school year starting again, I’ve been getting a few emails asking about our math materials. I’ve been meaning to update the materials page for forever so I thought I’d get started with some of our favourite math materials for discovery-based learning.

Base Ten Set: Display them in a nice basket or tray with some large number cards or sums to explore

EasyRead Clock: This clock had Jack reading the time in less than a day. It’s incredible. I highly recommend it.

Scales: Display with some natural loose parts like stones, pinecones, pumice or next to a basket of blocks

Wooden Abacus: A new addition to our math materials but it has quickly become a favourite. Display it alongside some sums, explore number patterns, practise skip counting by 2s, 5s, 10s, or combine it with a small clipboard and a basket of wooden fruit for a small shop.

Magnetic Shapes: Explore symmetrical patterns, create mandalas, sort colours and shapes, create pictures with shapes. Plus being magnetic means they stay put which can be frustrating when using wooden shapes.

An Everyday StoryWooden Geometric Solids: Add these to your block area to inspire new design ideas

Dice: Great for quick subitising (seeing amounts without having to count them) as well as simple addition/subtraction games. Also pair them with natural loose parts or transparent loose parts on the light panel for quantifying

Large Wooden Number Cards: These cards are designed to place the smaller numbers over the top of the larger. This means the child is able to easily see how to create large numbers.

Sandpaper Numbers: One of the first math materials I bought and still being used three years later. Leave a few numbers out to explore, pair them with a sensory tray (like salt or coloured sand) or with a clipboard and thick coloured pencils.

Calculator: Pair it with some loose parts, a clipboard and fine-tipped marker, some dice or on its own on the shelves. A simple instruction and your child will be off creating their own sums. A calculator is always on our shelves.

Transparent Geometric Solids: These make my list too because of their open-ended-ness (is that a word?) These solids have removable bases which means you can add them to kinetic sand, sensory bins, water bins and explore 3D shapes, capacity and volume.Math Activities with Kinetic Sand - An Everyday Story

Tape Measure: Like calculators, we always have out tape measures. Add them to your block corner for measuring the highest towers, or the longest tunnels. Combine one with a clipboard and fine-tipped marker for recording measurements. And take one along when heading out for a nature walk to measure the girth of trees or the length of fallen trunks.

Tangram Puzzle: A tangram puzzle is both frustrating and slightly addictive. I’ve included it here after seeing the depth of critical thinking involved in solving the puzzle.

Magnetic Easel: Can I just say that these magnetic easels are fabulous. They are slightly inclined; making them gentler on the eyes when working with them. Pair them with a basket of interestingly shaped magnets for free exploration, or the magnetic shapes mentioned above. (While not math related) There’s also scope for literacy development; using magnetic letters and words to create sentences and stories.

Geometry Set: Make sure you always have a clipboard and markers handy for free exploration and design. If you get a transparent set, you can offer them on the light panel with some OHT paper and markers.


So some general math materials for discovery-based learning. I’m planning a more detailed blocks post as well as shapes and patterns.

Anything else you’d add to the list?

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22 comments on “Math Materials for Discovery-based Learning”

  1. Anita

    Wonderful list! Perhaps I might make pretend money to pretend buy fruits and vegetables or even real onions and potatoes? What do you think?

    • Kate

      Yes I have been thinking a bit lately about money and how I might introduce it. I think I have some old pretend money from my teaching days that I might put out with some wooden food.

      I am not sure about real food though. I know it’s a contentious issue among parents and educators but I try not to encourage playing with real food. I think I might stick with the wooden food and maybe some natural loose parts instead.

      • Susan P

        Why not use real money instead of play money, at least for the coins?
        My kids (just turned 5 & 7) have piggy banks and enjoy counting their money, which rarely adds up to more than three dollars. I have a board that has squares with the numbers one to 100. The kids lay out their money on the board to add it up to 100, which they know means they have a dollar. My kids have learned counting by fives and tens this way.
        We also recently found an old board game where each player does “chores” for money and there is a spinner which says “pay yourself without using nickles/dimes/quarters.” It is called Money Bags.

  2. Elsa

    Thank you for taking the time to put this post together, it’s really helpful. I need to order those scales I have been looking at for the past six months!

    • Kate

      The scales are really great. At the moment the kids like to compare the weight of different objects. I don’t think they are reading the weight, just comparing which one is heavier. The scales also get used in their pretend play at lot.

  3. Maru

    Snap cubes! They can be used to complement the base ten blocks & to play many math games. The kids can also use them for patterns, multiplication & of course for free play.

    • Kate

      I’ve seen those snap cubes and was wondering whether they would enhance our math materials or whether the Base Ten set was enough. How do kids use them for multiplication? I like the idea of creating patterns.

      • Susan P

        For multiplication, you explain the literal meaning of multiplication, which is just a fast way of adding up groups. So if you have 2 groups of 4 (2*4) you make two groups of four with the snap cubes and count the cubes. Then you can also show that four groups of two make the same total number of cubes. And eventually you can explain (or they will get it on own) that it is a lot faster to memorize the multiplication facts instead of adding up the groups each time.

  4. Cara

    Graph paper. In the Moebius Noodles book, she recommends adding graph paper to the play area – they will automatically colour certain boxes for patterning, you can also introduce graphs or the cartesian plane, and just become familiar with the paper.

    Maths related books. Greg Tan’s books, Dana Meachan Rau’s books, the Peg + Cat book come to mind.

    Maths related art. Beautiful fractals, Escher’s sketches, hundred charts gorgeously displayed, natural spirals . . . lots out there!

    • Kate

      Oh yes graph paper could be really great. I think children would naturally colour and create different patterns as well as interpret the squares in their own way. I might add some and see how the kids approach it.

      We don’t have many math books so thank you for those recommendations. I will definitely look them up.

        • Cara

          Yes, sorry it is Greg Tang, missed the ‘g’ – he has a great website too. The other websites I follow are natural math and math in your feet (dancing math). I am doing the multiplication online course from natural math (the moebius noodles folk) and it is fantastic even with my 2 & 4 year old.

          • Kristi

            Thanks for the reminder on the book authors. We have Greg Tang’s “The Grapes of Math” and it is very fun and engaging.

  5. Emma

    Thanks so much for sharing this!!! I’ve been looking over your literacy post looking for ideas and inspiration for encouraging early literacy recently & maths was my next step 🙂 thanks also for the suggestions in the comments ladies! I might get some pretend money & graph paper today!!

    • Kate

      Hi Emma. I’ve been meaning to tidy up those literacy posts so sorry for making you wade through them :/ …. and I’m going to get some graph paper too I think.

  6. Amber

    Love this! We have many similar items, though I’ve yet to invest in the scale, I really want to though. An unexpected thing happened at our house when I put out a little slate and some chalk next to maths. My daughter (a huge prairie girl fan) found it so much more fun than paper she started writing equations! I was shocked, as I’ve never showed her how. She knew the plus sign and I then showed her how to write equals. We have also learned than in Ancient Rome kids used wooden boards covered with wax and wrote on them with a stylus. I think sometimes using things like this that a kid is really into in other areas (like maths) is a fun way to expand what they are interested in.

  7. Kristi

    Hi Kate. A great post as always. I love all the inspiring materials you offer in the Maths section. I plan to add several of them. Thank you. We have the wooden abacus from IKEA and my kids have lost interest. I was just going to research some ways to reintroduce it in a new way for play. Great tip on adding to a play shop 🙂

  8. Christine

    Speaking of maths books, I’ve read a few chapters of “The language of math: Communication and representation” (by Susan Sperry Smith) for Uni, and there’s been some interesting stuff in there that I hadn’t considered – though of course it’s possible you have. Some of its just awareness of the kind of math language that we’re using, which I certainly hadn’t considered before (maths has always been about numbers and operations, whereas she points out that referential words (like bigger, above, through, etc) are also important mathematical concepts.

    • Kate

      I haven’t heard of that book but I will look it up but yes I have been thinking about this a bit too; maths encompassing so much more than numbers and operations. And honestly, that clock is AMAZING! I’m not kidding. Jack learnt to tell the time in less than a day. Now he just reads it perfectly and actually understands the concept of time – all thanks to that clock.

  9. Laura

    Just been reading this post – do you use numicon? We really like it.

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