We used our footprint art to do a toddler version of all our Rainbow Maths. Cian’s seen lots of measuring and counting going on with these rainbows this week and squealed with excitement when it was his turn.


  • Mega blocks (you can use any coloured toys or objects that are a regular size)

Some of our rainbows:


We used Finn’s footprint art as the base and I set up the activity as shown in the first picture below. I placed the box of mega blocks at the far end of the room, so Cian (17 months) had to run backwards and forwards to collect the bricks. He followed the line of the bricks, colour matching. I named the colour as he placed it down.

He didn’t complete this activity in one go, he came backwards and forwards to it when he pleased. As with all activities for toddlers, if he had chosen to do something different with the bricks that would have been fine too. I wanted this to be open ended play, rather than work.

The (rough) area was the total number of circles on the bricks, as the brick were all different sizes, ranging from one circle long to four.

We counted how many blocks of each colour there were. I didn’t push the numbers, but having seen Ioan and Finn use counting to work out the area of their rainbows, Cian was keen to do the same. He kept grabbing my finger and pointing it at one block and then the next, giving me vocal cues to count.

There are all sorts of data handling activities for toddlers that come up naturally with a rainbow like this. I tend to ask open ended questions and see where that leads. With an older toddler, you could ask whether they could set the blocks out differently. Toddlers often set toys out in long lines, so you could ask which line was longer/ shorter and why they thought that was. You could provide tools for them to measure the length of the lines, or add lines of all the other colours, to create a simple bar chart on the ground.

Cian decided that he was going to build upwards next. He pointed to each brick in turn, pretending to count. I demonstrated that his tower on the left hand side was taller than the right had side. He enjoyed pointing at the tower, to get me to say ‘taller‘ or ‘tall‘, then at the two pink blocks on the other side, waiting for me to say ‘smaller‘ or ‘short‘. He started pointing from one to the other, faster and faster, giggling away as I tried to keep up.

Again, with an older toddler you could offer tools for measuring height. If it came up naturally in their play, you could explain the difference between length (the end to end measurement of the object) and height (the measurement of distance of an object from base to top). As adults we naturally see the difference between the two, but this can be confusing for a child.

When Finn was younger, he found the distinction between length and height confusing. Especially as the same object can have a different description when you change its position. If you stand a pencil upright, it’s longest side is called its height, but lie it down flat and the original height becomes its length, while its original length becomes its height.

To help Finn understand the difference, we used to play a game. I would shout, “Height,” and he would stand and stretch up tall. Then I would shout, “Length!” and he would have to lie down as quickly as he could. He would have to keep getting up and down whilst I increased the speed, and changed the order, to try and catch him out.

As Finn became more confident, alongside the actions, he had to shout “tall” whenever he heard “height”, and shout “long” whenever he heard “length”. This is a lot trickier than it sounds!

After some building, Cian climbed on the coffee table and started exploring the bricks with his feet. Babies, and in turn toddlers, use all of their senses to explore and make sense of their environments. I go in to more detail about the 5 main senses, as well as the two senses that are often overlooked, in a post on multi-sensory scarf play for babies. When Cian had satisfied himself by stomping about for a while, he decided he was done and started putting the mega blocks away.

SAFETY: It’s worth mentioning that this coffee table is only at Cian’s waist height and he has always been a confident climber, I talk more about risk taking in a post on toddlers climbing.

Later on, I needed to clear the kitchen and do the washing up, so I just left out Cian’s watercolour rainbow by itself on the table. When I came back in, he’d started collecting some of his favourite toys and was putting them on the rainbow.

Whilst he collected items to fill his rainbow, he kept stopping to play with his Grimm’s blue car and people. He swapped a blue person from one seat to another, before adding them both to the car. I used it as an opportunity to talk about the car being empty and full.

Similarly, he moved on to swapping the positions of the orange people backwards and forwards in the orange car. Then alternated between standing them upright, then on their heads.

Cian realised the person from his green car was missing. It had fallen down the back of the shelf. He shouted, “Mama!” then mimed putting a person in and out of the car. He held my hand and walked me over to the shelf, with an indignant, “Uh!”

I said to him, “Oh no! I can see you’re missing the person from the green car. Shall we hunt for it together?” He answered “Yeh, yeh” then scrunched up his nose, pouted his lips and hummed for, “Please.”

Once we’d found the missing person for the green car, Cian didn’t even play with it. He was happy his green car was full and got back to the task of emptying and filling his blue car again.

DfES Early Years Outcomes (2013)


Number – 8 to 20 months

  • Develops an awareness of number names through their enjoyment of action rhymes and songs that relate to their experience of numbers.
  • Has some understanding that things exist, even when out of sight.

Number – 16 to 26 months

  • Knows that things exist, even when out of sight.
  • Beginning to organise and categorise objects, e.g. putting all the teddy bears together or teddies and cars in separate piles.
  • Says some counting words randomly.

Number – 22 to 36 months

  • Selects a small number of objects from a group when asked, for example, ‘please give me one’, ‘please give me two’.
  • Recites some number names in sequence.
  • Creates and experiments with symbols and marks representing ideas of number.
  • Begins to make comparisons between quantities.

Shape, space and measures – 8 to 20 months

  • Recognises big things and small things in meaningful contexts.

Shape, space and measures – 16 to 26 months

  • Attempts, sometimes successfully, to fit shapes into spaces on inset boards or jigsaw puzzles.
  • Uses blocks to create their own simple structures and arrangements.

Shape, space and measures – 22 to 36 months

  • Notices simple shapes and patterns in patterns.
  • Beginning to categorise objects according to properties such as shape or size.
  • Begins to use the language of size.