Polymath: The Blog for Parents and Educators

How is mathematics useful to a young child?

February 07, 2022

It might feel like mathematics isn’t very relevant to young kids. They don’t need to pay bills or calculate taxes. They don’t really do any baking or cooking, at least not the bits that involve math. They don’t have to plan out their day, they definitely don’t need algebra, calculus, trigonometry, statistics...

Language on the other hand, feels more relevant as children are learning to communicate with others, but this idea that math isn’t used by young children is troublesome. There are so many ways in which math underpins the way that children function every day, showing how useful and important math is to young children.

Let’s talk about a couple of them...


Children seem to have an intrinsic drive to establish fairness. Fairness between friends, definitely between siblings. If one child is having 2 pieces of chocolate, of course the other must have the same! But how do children know what’s fair? From a very young age, children use visuals judge whether sharing is fair or not - do the two portions look the same size?

That’s math! Comparison of size is the foundation of math, but we can use numbers with kids to help them understand exactly what’s fair, because sometimes, two portions might not look the same but may be equal. For example, three large Lego pieces would easily be bigger than 20 smaller pieces, but there’s far more you can do with 20 smaller pieces of Lego.

An understanding of basic counting and numbers is fundamental to children being able to share with friends and family.


Making plans and understanding time

“We’ll see your friends next week!” doesn’t make a lot of sense to children until they understand what time means. They need to know how many days in a week when you tell them they’ll see their friend next week. They need to know how long 5 minutes is when you tell them they need to brush their teeth in 5 minutes!

Once they understand different periods of times, then it’s about planning the day and week.

Lego, Duplo... how many blocks do I need to build this?

Most kids play with some kind of block or brick toy growing up and children definitely use math for this activity! Young children begin to make patterns and shapes with blocks and bricks, and this requires both arithmetic and geometry.

Children will start counting the number of bricks they need for each shape or colour. They will learn mental rotation as they begin to understand the dynamics of 3D shapes from different angles. Children’s ability to do this will strengthen the more they practice this skills, and conversely, a stronger grasp on these math skills will improve a child’s ability to be creative with these sorts of toys.


Sports and video games

Much like sharing, competition is important to children. To be able to keep count of how many points a team have scored in a sports game is a key arithmetic skill. When it comes to video games, creative games like Minecraft require children to know how many blocks fit in a stack, how many items they can carry, how many of a resource they need to build something, and so on. Math is incredibly relevant when it comes to all kinds of games that kids play.


So, how is mathematics useful and important, or event relevant to a young child? These are just some of the ways, the list really does go on. Helping your child develop a strong foundation of mathematics through every day uses such as these, and letting them know that math is important and exciting is so useful to their day to day lives, both now and in the future.

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