Number Cakes

A number recognition activity

The end of August means a start to more structured activities for us. Mr 10 has gone back to school and Z only has one more year left until she begins her school journey. We have been working on number recognition for the last couple of months and this has become one of our favourite ways to focus on numbers in a playful way.

Z (aged 3) can count up to twenty but she is less sure of recognising the numerical form of some numbers. So we have been working on activities that help her to understand what a number looks like too.


  • Muffin tin
  • Play dough
  • Magnetic letters
  • cupcake cases (optional)
  • Gems – or similar such as pompoms or even cheerios!

What to do:

Set up the activity as above, then invite your child to make ‘cupcakes’ that will then be stamped and decorated. We usually like to say the number together, then Z traces it with her finger before putting the gemstones on.

This shouldn’t be a ‘one and done’ activity – you need lots of repetition of similar activities in order to help your child make connections to the numbers.

The gemstones helped Z to trace the numbers, but similar small items such as cheerios or pompoms would work just as well.

As Z is 3.5 years old, we like to keep the activities we do short and sweet so that they really hold her attention. We also like to create activities that have a number of educational benefits – this activity features:

  • Number recognition
  • Building hand strength (manipulating the play dough)
  • Fine motor skills (picking up the gemstones)
  • Hand-eye coordination – placing the stones in the correct place
  • Vocabulary and language development

Z spends the majority of her days engaging in open-ended play. Focused activities such as this will take between 5-20 minutes, depending on Z’s engagement. I never force her to stay at the table longer than she wants because I want her to have a genuine love for learning.

Variables that tend to affect engagement include:

  • Timing of activity: I try to avoid times when she is hungry of tired. Most of our activities are done after breakfast or lunch.
  • If I’ve pitched the activity wrong (too easy/ hard)
  • If the activity is too complicated

The key with any activity, especially if you have opted to home-school is to OBSERVE closely. Think about your child’s developmental stage, their interests and how to build upon previously learnt skills.

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