At play on the math table

As each new school year comes around, I add a little something here and there to spruce up the learning environment and to give me a little new inspiration in planning our program. This year, I added a new math table…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

This math table was originally a train table. For those of you who are not familiar with train tables, they are simple tables built low to the ground with a ledge all the way around the edge, and a fairly large surface for holding toy train tracks and train sets. Folks often sell their train tables when their young children grow out of train play and I bought one from a local yard sale. It was important to me to look for one with a white surface, not a painted surface. Not one to be limited to what manufactures or others say a table, toy, or even a box is supposed to be used for, I decided to take this old used train table and repurposes it as my math table…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

The train table provides a perfect space for play and exploration. So really it could be used for any kind of table in the classroom but I like it because it has edges to keep small parts from rolling off on the floor and the large white surface makes the best space ever for spreading out materials and creating large, fun, and interesting invitations to play…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

When my students arrive to preschool each morning, there is always an invitation to play set up on the math table. I suppose you could also call this our morning math activity however, my students also use the math table as a place to hang out and talk with each other. They gather around the table and explore the materials and I drop by to give information where needed or to hold conversations about what’s happening at the table…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

The morning math time seems to be when the children are at their best in terms of brain power and attention so the types of learning that goes on through this rather casual approach to math is really quite incredible…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

Someday, I will take the time to go back through the photos of our math table and be more specific in some of our invitations to play but here is a brief overview for now. I change the math table up once a week and then make minor changes as needed throughout the week…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

The children are in the habit of signing in then heading over to see what is at the math table to begin their day. Sometimes what is on the table goes along with a specific unit we are studying such as pizza…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

The math table helps us to focus on a specific skill or to introduce (or reinforce) a specific process or concept such as measuring, patterning, counting, estimating, graphing, and so on…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

Sometimes, the items put out on the math table are inspired by a specific holiday or event…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

Sometimes the invitation to explore math is very simple and on other occasions, I get a little carried away and start to make it a little complicated. I have found keeping it simple is so much better but I still can overdo it now and then…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

I love the size of the table because it invites the children to stretch and reach across. It also is the perfect size for my students to stand rather than sit at. I’ve noticed that standing up to explore is often better for the children who easily get bored or need to move often in order to stay on task…

At Play at the Math Table by Teach Preschool

I like to stop by the math table and sit with my students here and there to talk about math. The conversations seem very casual but in the back of my mind, there is always intention. In the process of teaching my students, I always make sure that I am also contributing to the play or experience rather than causing the children to lose their interest in some way…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed having the math table this year. Having a designated math table that the children expect to walk in and explore each day also has kept me on my toes. It has made me really think about different concepts the children should be exploring or mastering and then make sure I am finding a creative and playful way to set it up for them…

At Play on the Math Table by Teach Preschool

Available on Amazon

Links to Grow On

Everyday Math Play by Teach Preschool

Making Math Meaningful by Deanna Pecaski McLennan

By |2017-03-29T09:25:08+00:00February 24th, 2016|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Sheri F February 24, 2016 at 8:12 am - Reply

    As always I love your posts! Can you share where you got both sets of your block numbers?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 29, 2016 at 10:36 am - Reply

      I pick them up anyplace I run across. I found a set in the toy section at Walmart and another set at Hobby Lobby.

  2. Dee February 24, 2016 at 8:56 am - Reply

    This is a great idea! And I have a train table in my basement just collecting dust. Is it something I could add to my classroom like after spring break or do you feel it would be easier to start off the year?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 29, 2016 at 10:36 am - Reply

      I think you can go ahead and add it! The children will love it whenever you are ready to introduce it. What you will want to be gradual on is the kinds of materials you set out to explore. Introduce ideas so that your students will be successful and grow with them!

  3. Jenn Langsdale February 24, 2016 at 10:21 am - Reply

    How fun!!

  4. Scott February 24, 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

    This looks like great fun – wonderful ways to explore math concepts and to just explore. I love the train table (now math table)!

  5. Ms. Jessi February 24, 2016 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    This is just so inspiring! Now I need to try and find a space to make a math table! 🙂

  6. NanaT February 24, 2016 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    I love love those chunky wooden numbers! Is there a retail source for purchasing those? Please?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 29, 2016 at 10:34 am - Reply

      I just pick them up where ever I can find them. I find them at places like Hobby Lobby or Walmart.

    • NanaT March 8, 2016 at 5:56 pm - Reply
      I think this is the correct source site for those large chunky blocks.

    • Rebecca March 16, 2016 at 7:36 am - Reply

      Hi there they are are called sumblox

  7. Mary Catherine February 24, 2016 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Love it! Our math table used to be a train activity table too (a bit different than yours). I am SO INSPIRED by your invitations involving the tape on the table. Cannot wait to try a few of them out with my students. Thanks, as always! 🙂

  8. Faye February 25, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    These are very good math activity ideas! I was lucky to find a train table as well at a sale. For the first few months, it was set up as such until I got the bright idea to pull up the top to see what was on the other side, in which it was blank tan pressed board. I turned it over and started using it for other activities as well. It is also used for check-out lane when, for example, I set up a garden or grocery store, and also used as a patient table for our pet hospital. I would love to have the white surface and may consider painting it one day. These tables are a great resource to have around for so many uses if you have the space for it.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 29, 2016 at 10:34 am - Reply

      The blank side is always the best side! LOL! I love all the ideas you are using your table for too!

      • Vicky Grotton April 1, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        Love your ideas! Would like to have a list of all the ideas you put on it as a quick reference.

        I quickly wrap the flat top with bulletin board paper. I can write on it and change it quickly for the next activity.

  9. Olga February 28, 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

    So creative idea, I adore such activities and my kids will surely like yours. Thank you very much! ))

  10. Shawn-Del March 2, 2016 at 9:16 am - Reply

    I love this post. I have the exact same train table and I bought it for the reasons you bought yours. I found it on Craig’s list and it came with trains and a beautiful rolling drawer for under the table. Our table came out of storage a couple weeks ago and now that we’re ready to use it again, I will be turning it into a math center or exploration center. Thank you for the great idea. I love being encouraged to step outside the box.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 2, 2016 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you will put your train table to different kinds of uses. I think you will find the possibilities are endless!

  11. Lucinda Hawes March 24, 2016 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Another super inspiring post. I don’t have a big table like that but I do set out trays for maths/number/concept exploration. I loved the big numbers on the walls. A quick thought on learning numbers and linking it to personal information or people that help us or emergency numbers could be to have telephone numbers the children could practise calling.
    Dial a friend maybe?? Thank you again. I’m going to be keeping my eyes open for a bigger table now.

  12. lizzet March 29, 2017 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Thank you, love it!

  13. Cindy March 29, 2017 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Debra…As always a great post! Thanks for the photos, as I am such a visual person, it helps so much to see the activities in action! Where did you find this table? I could use a normal classroom tables, but there isn’t a ledge around them, and I really like the ability to contain the activities.
    Thank you so much for in the inspiration!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 29, 2017 at 4:25 pm - Reply

      Hi Cindy,
      This table used to be a Train Table. I purchased it second hand from a mom in my area then painted it so it would match the other furniture in my classroom. You can find train tables on Amazon or I see lots of them for sale on Facebook yard sale type groups. I hope that helps!

  14. Kusum March 29, 2017 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Great math ideas!

  15. Ellen Sugai September 3, 2017 at 12:26 am - Reply

    Your DIY math table is the best piece of furniture I added this year! My 3-year-olds love using it to sort out glass pebbles, teddy bear counters, shells and even roll discovery bottles on it. I didn’t have a train table, but I had one of those tables where the table top was made of two boards with a road and scenery printed on it so the children could roll small cars on it. I flipped the boards over, painted them white and now I have a math table. If the children want to play with cars, I just flip the boards over to the side with the road.

    • Deborah Stewart September 3, 2017 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      I love it!

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