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Matchbox Car Math

Updated on September 24, 2014

Playing with Matchbox Cars

This little boy is learning math as he plays with his matchbox cars... Used under creative commons
This little boy is learning math as he plays with his matchbox cars... Used under creative commons | Source

Matchbox Car Symmetry

Max's cars are arranged in a symmetrical pattern. Photo used by permission.
Max's cars are arranged in a symmetrical pattern. Photo used by permission. | Source

Playing and Learning with Toy Cars

Children love to play with toy cars. They line them up, make car motor sounds and arrange their little vehicles in many, many different ways. Just playing with the cars can help children begin to learn math concepts.

When ever you notice your children playing with cars, think about joining in on their play. Then as they form groups of cars, arrange them by color or experiment with how far they travel when released on a ramp, you can mention the math that these activities demonstrate.

Learning Basic Math

Basic math is taught in classrooms with changing methods over the years. The trends go from paper and pencil to using objects to help children learn math using multi-sensory approaches. There are some children who learn math though paper and pencil methods but after decades of teaching children as well as successfully homeschooling my children, one of whom became a Mechanical Engineer with a minor in Math, I have found that more children truly grasp the meaning of mathematics when taught though a hands-on approach.

This hands-on approach to learning can be augmented by seizing the moment by talking about math concepts while children are just playing with their toys.

If you look at the picture of the toy cars you may at first think that this is just a random pile of matchbox cars. Upon further inspection you may notice that the cars are all on the flat plane of the floor. They have not just been dumped there.

The cars may have initially been driven into a head on collision by two cars. While playing with your child you might note that one car crashing into another car creates a two car accident. (1+1=2).

Then if your child crashes two more cars into the first two you now have a four car accident. (2+2=4)

As your child crashes more and more little toy cars into the fray, the numbers keep rising two by two. This is the time to begin skip counting by 2's. Increasing by 2's comes naturally with one car in each hand.

If your child keeps putting them into the center, you will notice that the group of cars forms a circle and as the circle keeps expanding it will form concentric circles. (Geometry)

If the circles grow at the same rate all around the initial crash, you will begin to notice symmetry, a pattern where both sides are the same when cut in half or folded over each other. (Geometry)

Capturing the Moment

When you notice your children creating something mathematical try joining in to talk about their creations. Show your enthusiasm and be sure to use mathematical terminology when describing the patterns they make.

I like to keep my camera handy as you can see my cousins did when Max made his car creation. Children love to talk about their creations and having a camera handy means that you will be able to keep talking about it, observing the math shown in the creation and increasing your children's math vocabulary even after the cars have been picked up and put back into the bin.

Max's Car Math

Max is my little 3 year old cousin. He likes to play with cars and one day he made this elaborate circle of cars. His mom posted the picture and when I saw it I just had to write about all the math that he was learning and demonstrating in the process.

Can you imagine how much fun he was having? For a three year old it must have taken quite a bit of concentration to move each of the cars into position.

As the adult in this situation, you can take advantage of this teachable moment by using mathematical terms to describe the patterns he was making.

Expand Your Matchbox Car Collection

Matchbox Cars - Available on Amason
Matchbox Cars - Available on Amason | Source

Toy Car Sorting Game

What kinds of games can you play with your children's toy vehicles in order to learn more math?

  • Sort the cars by color, length, number of windows etc. Once your child is good at sorting, turn this activity into a game. Put all of the cars in a bin. One child turns around or covers their eyes as the other chooses cars that are alike in some way.
  • Then tell the second child to look and try to discover what the pattern is.

Matchbox Car Parking Lot Game

One of my kid's favorite activities was to write numbers on their cars and then match them to parking spaces. We used to paint the numbers on with acrylic paint covered in polyurathane but more recently we discovered chalkboard paint.
Using chalkboard paint means that we can change the numbers as often as we like and also gives your child the opportunity to practice handwriting and helps to improve their fine motor skills.

Help your children paint the tops of the cars with chalkboard paint. You may want to use sand paper to rough up the surface first so that the paint adheres. Let the paint dry and then give your child chalk and a wet washcloth to write numbers on the cars.

For a parking lot, use a large piece of foam board. Paint the foam board with chalkboard paint. You can use thin masking tape to delineate the spaces.


  • Write numbers on the cars and parking spaces
  • Draw dots on cars and parking spaces.
  • Write numbers on the cars and draw dots on the parking spaces
  • Write numbers on the cars and draw geometrical shapes on the parking spaces. Car number three goes on the triangle. Car number four goes on the square etc.
  • Write ordinal numbers parking spaces. (First, second etc.) Race your cars down a ramp. Put the winners in the races in their proper spaces.

Toy Car Races

Racing Toy Cars

Do your children like to race their Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars? Have you ever thought about the math that is used when racing cars?

First they line up the cars in rows of six and columns of six. 6X6=36 cars on each of the black mats.

The cars are raced 6 at a time with one car from each round declared the winner.

Do your children have enough toy cars to create such a display?

Do you help your children learn math while playing with toy matchbox cars?

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Why should you teach your children math using toy cars?

  • Children learn best through concrete, hands-on activities.
  • Children learn more when they are having fun.
  • Children love playing with little toy cars.
  • Most children already own a quantity of matchbox cars.
  • Math is all about patterns.

Do your children enjoy learning math using their toy cars?

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    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      this is such a great idea! my 3rd son (have 4) loved loved toy cars like this, and he would sit for hours lining them up, parking them etc, and it never occurred to me to use them for math! I'll have to remember this for grandkids :)

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 3 years ago

      You've got some great ideas here for learning math!

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      Great idea, I love using unconventional ways to teach my grandchildren things. This is great! Thanks for putting this together for all of us.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 3 years ago from California

      Kids have always learned by playing, but I never thought of using cars to teach math, but it does make sense. Let them learn with what they like....makes things stick better :)

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 3 years ago from Cheshire UK

      What fantastic way to encourage learning with play. I have always believed learning should be fun and engaging and this is a great way to get started.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 3 years ago from California

      I use cars to teach counting, patterns, adding, subtracting, fractions, etc. They're affordable to buy so it's easy to build up a big collection.