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56 Tactile Math Ideas: Ideas and Suggestions for Development of Basic Concepts & Early Math Skills

Activities to help young children who are blind or visually impaired to develop basic concepts and a foundation for basic numeracy

By Gwyn McCormack
Children who are blind or visually impaired, including those who have additional disabilities or deafblindness, benefit from lots of hands-on exploration of real objects from the natural environment.  Exploration of various household items can help to develop basic concepts about size, shape, color, and lay the foundation for classification skills, matching, and sorting.  They can compare groups of objects and find the one that is “big” or “little” or “same”.  At the same time, experimenting with common objects provides lots of opportunities to practice counting and arranging items, and preparing for more advanced mathematical skills, such as addition and subtraction.
basket with sponges, spoons, mug, socks, brushes, sandal

To Develop Skills of Counting, Matching and Sorting, Categorizing, and Discriminating

Using different textures, make sounds, play and extend the learning. Rattle the spoon in the cup, fill the cup and the jug with water find out which holds the most, squeeze water from the sponges. Match the socks, cate- gorise the brushes, find all the circular, square shapes, longest, shortest objects.

wooden spoons

Understanding the Qualities of Objects: ‘Woodness of the wooden spoon’

Experience and maximize the learning opportunities:
  • Shortest—longest
  • Handles of wooden spoon, different top (fork)
  • Categorize by spoon head: Thinnest—widest
  • Measure using the spoon as a unit of measurement.

Understanding the Qualities of Objects: ‘Whisking of the Whisk’

Explore the qualities of the different whisks:
  • Whisk bubbles in a bowl
  • Make cupcakes using whisk
  • Make a mobile with whisks
  • Add plastic whisk to the collection
  • Explore electric hand whisk (not plugged in)
  • Listen to the sound each whisk makes when it is used.
  • Find out which is the heaviest— lightest whisk

Concept Hanger

(Hanger £4.50 from IKEA)
Hang Bracelets, metal objects, wooden objects, square/circular/rough/smooth/cold to touch objects.
Change the objects each week, collect the objects with the child.
Categorize the objects
Sort by shape, size, length, texture, height
concept bag with ball, rolling pin, paper towel roll, pen, salt shaker

Concept bags

R for Rolling (Objects that roll)
Rolling pin, pastry cutter, paintbrush, glue, cork, small ball, large ball, lens cleaner, inner from kitchen roll.
tin box of metal objects: clock, bracelets,

Metalness of Metal

In a metal tin
  • Oval metal tin
  • Bracelets
  • Shirt cufflets
  • Clock
  • Bolt
  • Pastry cutter
concept bag of hair bands

Classification/Concept Bags—H For Hair bands

Range of hair bands and hair accessories to classify by shape, texture, decoration.
concept bag of silver and shiny beads, buckles, bracelets

Classification/Concept Bags — Silver and Shiny Bag (two attributes)

Beads, belt with sequins, make up bag, buckle, boxes, bracelet
boxes of pencils, fans, bottles, spoons, brushes

Understanding Number as a Whole

’Numerousness’ The oneness of one, the ‘twoness’ of two, the ‘threeness’ of three.
Use the detachable number line to add to the front cover of each box.
The box contents can be used to understand the oneness of one, the ‘twoness’ of two, as well as to understand the ‘pencilness’ of the pencil, or the woodeness of the wooden spoon.
Pencils, fans, bottles, spoons, toy cars, brushes, any objects from around the house.
shells, buttons, and beads sorted on paper plates

Sorting / Matching

Shells, buttons, beads, etc.

small and large objects around the house, shells, spray bottle, basket, toy rings

Big and Little

Small and large objects from around the house or from within the child’s daily environment.

bracelets, toy car and truck, hair brush and makeup brush, spoons, toothpaste boxes

Same and different

Objects which are exactly the same and objects which are different, some with more subtle differences, e.g. pattern on the bracelets

different shape boxes

positive eye's supermarket items: soda cans, yogurt cups, etc.

oval containers

square boxestoberlone candy

   Positive Eye’s Supermarket Comparison

Match shapes
Learn about capacity
round containers
thank you card
jars and bottles

Ordering by Size

Collect a selection of bottles to order by size. Categorise by shape, opening, lid type, material made of.
containersbottle capsjars

Sorting by Shape Ordering by Size

Largest to smallest using pots, jam jar and
milk container lids
activity boardactivity board

Ordering / Comparing

Tallest to shortest activity: Measure each object and place in order.
Long tray from IKEA used with foam board shaped to tray and added in as an activity base.
lazy sue and assorted shapes

Create Games and Activities to Match 3D Shapes to Real Objects and 2D Shapes

Use Lazy Sue or a large tray divided into four areas.
(include names of shapes, number of sides)
wedding favor boxes

Understanding Shape: Matching 3D to 2D Shapes

Use wedding favour boxes and 2D shapes cut out in foam board with zychem raised outline stuck over the top of the 2D shape
foam board with 3D and 2D blocks

Matching 3D to 2D shapes and naming the shape.

Real object—3D model—2D model of plane—name of shape—number of sides.

Bag of shapes from RNIB
Long tray—IKEA
Foam board cut to size of tray to make interchangeable work activity card.
2D shape cut out in foam board with zychem outline shape stuck on top.


Many objects can be used to support counting. It is better to use everyday objects, those from the child’s daily environment. Here are some thick drinking straws with 5 mini pumpkins on each one, useful for counting, early times table.
stack of toothpaste boxes

Early Number Line

Use same size boxes and add number to each to make a number line, add the appropriate number of objects to each box, encourage child to read the Braille number and count the correct number of objects.
Child to independently find objects for each numbered box. Extend learning and add a different letter to each box — e.g. find 2 objects beginning with the letter b.
stacking rings and beakers

Early Number Line

Stacking rings and stacking beakers make good number lines and can also be used for other activities, smallest to largest. Beakers can be turned over and filled with the appropriate number of objects.
buckets and assorted objects

Early Number Line

Bucket Number Line—add number to each bucket and appropriate number of objects to each. Add letter to each bucket, e.g. To spell the word bucket and add number of objects beginning with each letter.

boards with gems attached

Number Line

Counting, adding, subtracting activities

Detachable individual boards stuck on with Velcro, can be used for other counting activities. Use with spinner to play snakes and ladders (up and down the number line)
counting activity

Number Line

Counting activity— each number has the name of the word, the number and the counters in a dish.
homemade dice
Make homemade dice up to 3
Write number in letters using discs
Write numbers in large print or braille
Braille sticky back numbers attached to a foam board

Number Line

On laminated cards, with braille sticky back numbers attached. Cards attached to a line of Velcro on a foam board


Four dowelling sticks stuck in a base board, each labelled with units, tens and hundreds
Beads of different shape for each column.
lazy sue with dice set up to play a game

Addition and Subtraction Activities

Use the spinner / dice to play the game.
When it lands on a 6, spin the Lazy Sue.
Read the number from the top of the box that stops in front of you, open the box and take a number out, add, multiply, subtract or divide the number. Choose correct answer from number line and place in pot in middle.
spinner with flags to play game

Subtraction and Addition Activity

Spin the spinner to get a 6 then choose a flag from the central pot, read the sum, there is a number missing, place the flag in the correct tower which has the missing number at its base.
Lazy Sue with activity mat added.
Unifix used to make towers
Unifix velcroed to base with number added in sticky back braille.
doll set at lazy susan with plates and tea cups

Fourness of Four: Sharing between Four, Counting Four

Four cups
Four plates
For four people, how many cups, plates? Take one plate away, how many left? Take one cup away, how many left?
food containers filled with figurines.


Dividing and sharing between two. Using plastic food containers—two compartment salad box
container with figurineswedding favor boxes with items velcro'ed on top


Between 2, 3, 4 ,5 ,6.
Or can be used for matching patterns and shapes activities
Wedding favour boxes added with Velcro to foam board activity base. Shapes added to the top of each box.
muffin tins filled with bottle lids


Between 2, 3, 4 ,5 ,6.
Use a food tray (mini steak pies) and the discs from the inside of bottle lids, these make good sturdy counters.
lazy susan with a

Sharing the Cake

Using mouse mats on a Lazy Sue placed on top of each other.
Each divided into 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 respectively. Add names of children on laminated tickets and invite them to share the ‘cake.’
wooden shapes

Making Patterns

Shapes are attached with Velcro.
laminated shapes

Matching Patterns

Matching patterns, subtle patterns made of different textures and also matching lines of patterns (see picture on right)
Make patterns on laminated strips, use small cubes or flat felt shapes (Hobbycraft)
coins and laminated strips

Shopping List

Layout coins required to buy item. Find out cost of each item. Add items together on shopping list.
Use large piece of foam board, divided into sections
Words for shopping list made on laminated strips with sticky back braille secured to surface. Make smaller laminated squares with prices of each item.
homemade dice
Homemade dice
Counting up to 3

View and print the original document here: Tactile Maths Ideas – Early Years up to 5 – 7

math strategies collage

There are more shared ideas at

Students using individual sandboxes at a table for sensory play.

Beyond Sight: Enhancing Learning with Tactile and Sensory Experiences

The Love Bugs cover with the title and textured hearts.

Love Bugs Book

Plant in a small container with a large adapted visual on top in red for ease of viewing. A water sprayer is next to it.

Sensory Gardens for Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments: Cultivating Inclusive Learning Environments