What is the Play Math Program at Wellington-Alexander Center?

Play Math is a neurocognitive approach to teaching the foundational concepts in numeracy that underlie the ability to think mathematically. Play Math is a therapeutic intervention for students with neurodevelopmental uniquenesses that prevent children from learning math using traditional methods of mathematical memorization.

Integrating theory and practice from Thomas Carpenter, Liping Ma, Alexander Luria, and Lev Vygotsky alongside neuroscience research, we help children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and dyspraxia develop foundational numeracy skills through play.

Our focus is working with children ages 6-15 who have not acquired a foundational understanding of the relationships between numbers. Our most frequent students are referred in grades 3rd-10th when they have been unable to learn and apply their math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).

Challenges we often observe include difficulty with:

  1. understanding magnitude & quantity
  2. understanding how quantities fit together and can be taken apart
  3. understanding mathematical symbols & operations
  4. confusion over the meaning of the equal sign
  5. confusing over the meaning on ONE (digit, number, set, thing)
  6. understanding how operations are “the same yet, different”
  7. developing strategies to solve mathematical problems
  8. tempo, rhythm & timing
  9. fluency & automaticity
  10. attention & working memory

The treatment of dyscalculia requires a developmental-cognitive-motor approach to facilitate learning.

Using cognitive-motor play strategies we help children discover numerical relationships to help them develop strategies to compose and decompose quantities represented by numbers.

In a step-wise developmental progression, we build number sense, counting strategies, constructing and deconstructing numbers, problem-solving, and mathematical thinking so that children can apply their skills and knowledge to move beyond counting on their fingers, relying on math fact charts, and guessing.

Metacognition Builds Confidence

Fundamentally, mathematics is the cognitive processing of patterns and sequences with a coded language of symbols that communicate operations and rules.  When we talk through what the students are thinking as they take action mathematically, they become more skillful in problem-solving. Raising metacognition with proactive thinking skills and reliable numeracy strategies builds confidence in children while making math more transparent and students less anxious.

We use metacognitive messaging, Socratic questioning, and executive function skills coaching to help students who feel like math “is not my thing” transform into experiencing that math is pretty fun and super cool.  The Play Math developmental cognitive approach is based on cognitive psychology, kinesiology, and applied neuroscience, leveraging what humans know naturally, tempo, rhythm, timing, patterns, and sequences to help them make sense of what was once confusing.

Play Math engages thinking skills, that require the use of imagery, imagination, and language. For many children, imagery is fundamental to the process of thinking with numbers. Sequential and simultaneous processing are both necessary cognitive processes for math as are attention, inhibition, encoding, retrieval, problem-solving, and decision making. For students with dyscalculia, understanding quantity and number relationships is a foundational skill that often requires systematic, patient, and creative instruction.

Children with Dyscalculia Often have Difficulty with:

  • number sense
  • ordinality
  • cardinality
  • counting
  • understanding quantity and magnitude
  • combining and portioning numbers
  • understanding the meaning of one digit, one number, and one whole object (separated into parts)
  • constructing and deconstructing numbers
  • processing numerical order
  • encoding and retrieving math facts with fluency and automaticity
  • problem-solving
  • discriminating the key language context in word problems
  • understanding the structure of the base 10 system
  • mathematical organization (properly setting up problems and solving them step by step)
  • consolidating mathematical concepts in long-term memory (this puts a large burden on short-term memory)
  • visual-spatial deficits in graphing, drawing, and problem layout

What We Do in Play Math

We apply the teachings of Das, Dienes, Carpenter, Ma, Montessori, and Vygotsky, to develop children who Think Mathematically. We play math rather than “doing math”. This allows for the exploration of quantities and numerical relationships. The development of imagery in numeracy and the confidence to explore, discover and create mathematical solutions are central to our students’ “good work”.


  • We teach students how to count…Not only forward but backward.
  • We begin with imagery and concrete conceptualization by “seeing” what numbers represent.
  • We talk about the importance of thinking rather than guessing.
  • We “leap” on the number line to see what numbers we can build and how those numbers are related to one another.
  • We incorporate multi-sensory-kinesthetic and cognitive-motor activities such as drumming, rapid neuroactivation, counting activities, block building, and thinking games to build esteem in our learners.


  • We build math facts by “seeing” them and manipulating them, not by memorizing them. This takes time and yields long-term memory gains valuable for a lifetime of applied math.
  • We use “Magic Tens” and “Fives to Thrive” to facilitate math decomposition and subsequent recomposition.
  • We teach “the language of math” – that math has words (vocabulary), symbols, and rules that are purposeful, intentional, and meaningful.


  • We develop a personalized toolkit of research-based cognitive strategies to help each student compose and decompose math problems.
  • We introduce a modification of Touch Math to facilitate math strategy development once the students move from blocks, imagery, and kinesthetic learning to numerical equations.
  • We play with number relationships, which children find fascinating. As an example, if a student builds 8, 6 times and sees that the sum is 48 we then look at all the numbers we could decompose 48 into. This is an exercise in thinking not memorizing. It involves many “AH-HA” moments which enhance a child’s sense of motivation and connections with math.
Dr. Daniel Ansari on Developmental Dyscalculia


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