Author: Melissa Droegemueller

Learning Math at Home in a FUN Way

Learning Math at Home in a FUN Way

We tend to focus a lot on early literacy around here, but I also believe math readiness is just as important for our young children. Whether your child currently loves math or not, we should try to make learning math FUN at home! 

For years, I’ve heard stories (tall tales?) about the battles over math flashcards between my husband and his mom. She would literally chase him around the dining room table, trying to convince him to sit down and practice. To this day, he shudders whenever I say the word “flashcards.”

Learning Math at Home in a Fun Way | math play activities, card games, number sense, hands-on activities, learning through play, place value, learning math for kids, learning styles

Learning Challenges

In all my years of teaching (both as a classroom teacher and as a homeschooling mom), I’ve realized no two children learn the same. Very often, we hold a child responsible for his/her own learning challenges. We might call them inattentive or lazy, rather than look at the curriculum or teaching style.

Over the last two years, I’ve watched my own daughter struggle with mastering her math facts. Her issues mainly stem from a lack of confidence and feeling pressured when being timed. To counteract her negative feelings, we spend a lot of time talking positively about math.

Learning Styles

Equipping our children to deal with math challenges often starts with learning about growth mindset. Discovering a child’s learning style can also help us (and them!) find specific, tailored strategies to attack the problem in a fun, fresh way.

Teaching my daughter (a visual learner) how to quickly draw a picture or make a diagram while solving word problems has made a world of difference. For the longest time, she thought she had to do all the work in her head!  

My other daughter is an auditory learner. She has quickly picked up her math facts, just by listening to her sister practice with me each day. We also listen to a lot of skip-counting songs while we’re in the car.


Want to learn more about learning styles? Click here!


Starting Early

I’ve realized that all children deserve a solid math foundation in the early years. Rather than starting with workbooks at the age of 3 or 4, we can bring in fun math games and activities. Young children often do best learning through play!

Learning Math at Home in a Fun Way | math play activities, card games, number sense, hands-on activities, learning through play, place value, learning math for kids, learning styles

Here are some of my favorite ideas for learning math at home in a fun way!

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

  • Math Games

UNO is a great game for number recognition! You can also use the cards for all kinds of “mix and match” learning activities.

Rack-O is fun for sequencing.

Pass the Pigs is fantastic game to practice adding!

Set is one of our favorite family math games. Everyone can play, from the 6-year-old to the 40-year-old. It’s great for sorting and problem-solving!

  • Math Play Activities

    • Cooking is a great way to learn more about math–both measuring ingredients and talking about fractions. If you are looking for an easy recipe for your kids to create, why not try making homemade playdough? Our favorite recipe calls for mixing dry ingredients together before adding in the hot water, so your children can help in a safe way.
    • Playing store can be a fun way to learn more about money–sorting coins by “type” and counting them by 1s, 5s, 10s, and 25s.
    • Grocery shopping and going to restaurants (or recreating the experience at home in your play kitchen) can introduce the idea of budgets and making change. For older kids, you can talk about percentages in choosing a tip for a server.
  • Math Books

It should come as no surprise that we LOVE math-themed books in our house! Here are some of our favorites:


See our must-have math toys here!


We also make learning math FUN by:

  • celebrating silly holidays like Pi Day
  • polling friends & family on Facebook (favorite color, favorite fruit) and then making a graph with the data
  • playing Todo Math on our iPad
  • creating STEM projects (check out our Pinterest board)

Want to learn more about doing math at home?

If you are:

  • the parent of a child ages 2-7
  • passionate about your child’s education
  • committed to making learning at home as FUN as possible, and
  • interested in child development…

then our Making Math Fun workshop is for YOU.

Learn 10 important math skills your children need to know for early math success AND fun ways to practice those skills at home.


How to Encourage Independent Play

How to Encourage Independent Play

As a homeschooling family, one thing my girls are REALLY good at is playing independently. Over the last six years, they have learned to entertain themselves while I teach the other child. We’ve also spent many hours playing at our Classical Conversations community, my husband’s choir practice, and the girls’ gymnastics class. Some children are natural learners when it comes to independent play, while others need direct instruction and practice.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

When is my child ready for independent play?

I recently had a mom ask, “How early do you think kids are able to do this?”

The easy answer, of course, is that all children are different. I believe independent play is an important life skill that needs to be taught in early childhood and practiced over time until it becomes a way of life.

I would venture to say that some babies can learn to play independently for small amounts of time, maybe 5-10 minutes max. Our oldest daughter loved to look at herself in a mirror during tummy time, even if I was sitting right next to her!

Even our second baby, who much preferred being held or worn, would often have her independent play time in the kitchen while I prepared dinner. I would sit her in the high chair with a special toy and she was free to explore near me (but not exactly WITH me).

As our girls grew into toddlers and preschoolers, their time for independent play grew longer and more frequent. As a homeschooling family, each girl would have a turn for lessons while the other would listen to her personalized playlist and play in the other room.

There is a myth that all children need to be “entertained” all the time, and it’s just not true. As parents, it is important to build in time for independent play–not in a neglectful way, of course. (It should go without saying that parents and caregivers should ensure their children are safe and happy during independent play sessions.)


Grab our FREE independent play learning ideas!


 4 Ways to Encourage Independent Play

  • Environment

All too often, parents send their children “off to play” in a room filled with toys. Immediately, overwhelmed with choices and decision fatigue, children will make a mess or be destructive. The first and most important step for teaching kids to play independently is preparing the environment. You can either set up a toy rotation system or perhaps easier for this purpose, bring just one or two toys to an uncluttered play area, like a rug or blanket on the floor. If your child has a small table, you can also set up an independent play activity on it.

  • Equipment

I am a self-proclaimed lover of toys. There are some amazing learning products on the market these days! When it comes to teaching your child how to play independently, however, you are looking for a certain type of toy. You are looking for something open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

Off the top of my head, I might consider Mental Blox or a train set to start. As your child becomes more adept at independent play, you can bring in the sensory bins or playdough invitations.  (You can click here to see the entire list of our 13 favorite indoor toys.)

  • Educate

As I mentioned in the introduction, some children are naturals when it comes to independent play. Others need to be taught (shown AND told) what it means to play independently. It may take a few weeks, but with good instructions, clear expectations, and lots of practice, you can set up good play habits that will last for years.

If you have a toddler or preschooler (or even an older child!), try this process:

  1. Explain that you are going to try a NEW activity! I think we first called it “room time,” but since we often switched from room to room, I started calling it “invitations to play.” (Now, our six-year-old just asks me to set up “an activity.”) Find a name that works for you both and signals something new and exciting.
  2. Show your child WHERE they are going to be doing the activity. As you lay out a blanket or set up a child-sized table, they will likely be intrigued without you doing too much. Remember to keep it fun–independent play is not a punishment.
  3. Bring out a toy (just one!) that they haven’t played with in a long time or something new you’ve picked up at a consignment store. Choose something they will WANT to play with at first (no screen time, of course). Make sure to keep it open-ended!
  4. Turn on music or an audiobook while your child plays. Stay close by, but don’t get involved in the play unless you want to. (Definitely don’t grab your phone/tablet, or your child will want what YOU have.)
  5. Mark down what time they start playing and when they lose interest/walk away. Hopefully you can get 5-10 minutes the first time! When they are done, ask them to clean up with you before they move on to another task.
  6. Repeat the process tomorrow. And the day after. Keep practicing until your child can stay focused on ONE activity for 30 minutes.

Remember that this should be FUN and light-hearted. If you are having any struggles at all, just reach out and we can troubleshoot together. 

  • Engage

If your child is struggling to play independently, the most likely problem (sorry to say) are the toys. We all know that kids gravitate towards the things that interest them, right? Start setting aside the toys your child no longer seems interested in playing with until you find the “sweet spot.” You can certainly try re-introducing the toy to your child at a later date to see if their interest has returned. (If not, you can resell that toy or donate it to charity.)

Another likely culprit is too much screentime. In our house, we definitely notice a negative effect on our children’s attitudes and attention spans when they’ve had unlimited freedom with either the TV or tablet. You may need to institute a “fast”or strong boundaries around screentime while your child is learning to play independently. We have found that audiobooks are a good substitute–low tech, but still engaging and fresh.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

YOUR TURN: How do you encourage independent play for your kids?


Grab your FREE Ultimate Guide to Learning at Home from Melissa Droegemueller of Rolling Prairie Readers

If you enjoyed this post, you might like our Learning at Home series. Click here for the post or enter your information below to get your ultimate guide delivered straight to your inbox!

St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin

St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin

March is here! We celebrated by packing away our Valentine’s Day decorations and pulling out all of our favorite shamrock and rainbow activities. This afternoon, we switched out our Valentine’s Day sensory bin for another one of our favorites. This simple St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin combines a variety textures and lots of opportunities for fine motor play and math discovery.

St. Patrick's Day Sensory Bin | learning fun at home, sensory play ideas, invitations to play, activities for kids, gold coins, hands-on learning

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you.You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

As I mentioned in this post about sensory bin storage, we keep a big basket down in our basement with all of our sensory bin materials: dried corn, peas, and beans, uncooked popcorn, and various shades of rice and noodles. (You can click here for instant access to our favorite tutorials about dyeing rice and noodles.) 

A few years ago, we dyed a bunch of noodles green: rotini, wagon wheels, and seashells. The variety of textures gives young children the opportunity to compare and contrast, sort, and pattern while they play. Best of all, the noodles are larger than other fillers like rice and dried peas, which makes clean-up a breeze!

St. Patrick's Day Sensory Bin | learning fun at home, sensory play ideas, invitations to play, activities for kids, gold coins, hands-on learning

You can extend the play of this St. Patrick’s Day sensory bin by changing out the accessories every week or so. We started with plastic gold coins and a pair of green tweezers. We also have gathered these items:

  • green cups (these are our favorite)
  • orange and green silicone cups
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • ice cube trays

We love to take this sensory bin outside in the sunshine all month long. Hooray for spring!

If you try this St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


Get five rainbow-themed activity ideas to help your child build attention span and independent play skills.

Just add your information below to get instant access to our FREE Rainbow-Themed Invitations to Play download!