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Same and Different

Hello, I am Becky. (Rebecca Fisk - an education consultant with expertise in early years and special educational needs.) I have over thirty years of experience teaching young children and training adults. I like to use exploratory play activities so children can play and create in their own way. Today I suggest some ideas to help you get started with exploring the mathematical concept of same and different. This involves thinking about matching in different ways and grouping things that are connected in some way.

Toy's Picnic

Have you got some different sized toys you can use for this activity? Invite the toys to a pretend picnic and see if you can find something to use which matches appropriately size-wise with the toy, such as a tiny plate for a tiny teddy or dinosaur.

Here we look at three different sized teddies – large, medium and small, and three different sized plates and spoons. We ‘match’ the sizes of implement (spoon) and crockery (plate) to the size of bear.

This helps children to make comparisons and compare sizes.

It is important to remember that when talking about something large or small try to actually have something large or small to demonstrate, to make the abstract concept of size more concrete and real.

Using different words to support mathematical vocabulary development such as big, large enormous, gigantic will help children to start to compare sizes and communicate their thinking.

Teddy is Hiding

This is a fun game to do with a toy first and then with the child themselves moving into different positions in relation to an object.

Developing positional language vocabulary takes time and practice and can be fitted into everyday activities and routines. Here we model the language of positional ‘opposites’ with a game where we move the teddy in relation to the box (basket). For example, teddy goes on and off the box, infront and behind the box, over and under the box, and finally ends up in the box asleep!

It's great fun to pretend to ‘programme’ each other and give instructions to move forwards, backwards and sideways. Or you can play hide and seek where you describe where you hid afterwards, such as  “I was behind the sofa, were you under the table?”

Matching Using 1 to 1 Correspondence

In order to support early mathematical and counting skills, it is helpful for children to understand the concept of same and different. Playing matching and grouping games supports this, as it involves making arrangements of things. Arrangements help us to later see patterns in numbers, such as on a dice there are spot arrangements representing a number (quantity).

You can start by finding pairs of the same identical items such as milk bottle tops and then move onto match one item with another which is different, such as one lid to one spoon, or one button to one stick. It doesn’t matter what you pair up or ‘match’ to demonstrate one to one correspondence.

It is important to use objects that can be easily moved about to support children to ‘visualise’ the pairing up as they arrange the objects.

Lots of daily activities support this, such as matching one plate for each person at the dinner table or ensuring each person has one biscuit. Sharing things out evenly is all part of corresponding one thing with another, so any opportunity to share is great!

Things That Belong Together

This activity involves noticing items that are commonly used together or associated with each other, such as a bucket and spade or a knife and fork. This is another way of matching things, through functionality and purpose of the items.

Having fun spotting things that go together really helps to develop children’s vocabulary and supports memory skills through association.

As children develop, they will start to associate things together to ‘categorise’ them. For example, bananas, apples, pears and oranges are all fruit and might go together with a fruit bowl. Categorising things helps us to remember them and recall them from our memories. It is a helpful way of introducing new vocabulary and extending children’s knowledge of the world around them, for example, plums, peaches and nectarines are also fruit, as are lychees, papaya and cherries.

The world is full of things and association and categorisation helps to make sense of it all.

I wonder what groups of associated things you can find around the house and outside? Are they in a pair or a larger group?


Play hide and seek and learn to describe where you were hiding so you can tell a friend or relative where that was. Perhaps they will hide in that place next time?

Can you take some photos or make a short video of your toys being adventurous with their opposites – you can send it into the gallery if you like.

Play the ‘category game’ where you use a timer and think of as many items in one category as you can in that time. So you could choose different transport or animals for instance.

Can you see any categories of things that go together in the story Handa’s Surprise?
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