Sorting Activities

Pattern Activities

Counter Activities


The Deconstructed Calendar - More Math in your Day

What, Denita?! Take that calendar away from circle time? Cut my precious Lakeshore purchased Pocket calendar into strips? Are you crazy?

When I first heard Denita Dinger (Play Counts) explained this on her podcast, Child Care Bar and Grill, I thought that’s innovative, probably smart, creative, but, really, Calendar Time is an easy element to my circle time, why change it?  “Who’s the Calendar person? Stand here. What’s the next number? What’s the pattern? “Sunday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…”

Her idea, however, wormed its way into my brain.  It made me sit back, look at the details of my day and evaluate the purpose behind this (okay, let’s be honest here) boring activity.  Really, have you ever started singing that song only to realize you were daydreaming and later realized it came out as “Sunday, Thursday, Wednesday, Friday,…Saturday?"  Have you ever had a child grasp the concept of time, where we are today, where we are moving towards as we move forward numerically?  Maybe, but for 3-5 year olds, probably not.

In full disclosure, I’m a math nerd.  I sneak in all the pre-math language and concepts I can while my littles are playing. Then I realized Denita is right.  I was missing a huge opportunity to expose children to:

 !.  the number line,

 2. time moving across a distance,

 3. One to one correspondence,

 4. number recognition,

 5. Countless mathematical terms.

So now what.

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 1. Rip that Lakeshore pocket calendar off the wall.

 2. Staple laminated sentence strips across the wall at kid eye level.

 3. Place Velcro dots evenly across the strip,

 4. Place this month’s name at front of line (February) , next month’s a the end (March),

 4. Daily, hide the day’s number,

 5. Shut my mouth, sit back, observe.

Amazing.  What happened?

 1. Now the kids start the day excited about finding the number.

 2. Number recognition has increased tremendously without one child sitting criss cross applesauce.

 3. Numerical order is relevant. “What’s next? “,  “14”, “Oh, it’s after the one with the 1 and a 3”, “13”, “Yep”, I’ll find it”, “Me, too.”

 4. Math language is constant “What’s next”, “How many more”, “It’s under, over, beside, next to”.

So, don’t tell Lakeshore, but Denita was right. One of the most rote, unengaging activities has become a highlight of the day. Children repeatedly engage the number line throughout the day. Math concepts are relevant, rolled in and absorbed.  And, wow, not once have I had to say, “Shhh, we are counting the days. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday…”



Math...It's More Than 1, 2, 3


Math …It’s Not What They Say


“12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20”

What happened to 16? What is it about that number that is often the last one to line up?  You know what it is? It’s a red flag.  And that flag says, “I have no connection between these numbers and an object within my world.”  What that child is doing it merely reciting numbers. Much like a child that sings the alphabet with the words “lmmmenopeee”. The child is not saying individual letters; he is just singing a song.  So let’s skip that standard of 20 and start with 1. 

To make a connection you have to break down the elements of what you are teaching.


Learning to associate numbers with objects requires:


1. A real group of objects…a connection

2.  One-to-one correspondence…associating an object and number to a quantity

3.  Real counting begins when we move past 1,2,3. 


Real Objects:



Real objects: Premath skills like everything in our classroom require making a connection. 


Real objects make math so easy.  Just going through our day, we can count anything and everything. It must be visible, tangible and in the child’s hand.





 A child wants to touch everything.  They’ve done the step number 1 for you. 

So count whatever they are touching.  It doesn’t have to be that well planned out activity you bought at a fancy teacher supply store.  Yep, it is shining and bright, but right now he has a handful of rocks.  Start there. No purchase required.

If they aren’t touching the object as they count, it is hard for the child to grasp what number goes with what object. Also, by having the child touch the objects as they count, it helps you discern if the true one-to-one correspondence is happening. Often children will “1-4-, 7 there are 7”.  Are they guessing, did they memorize their friend’s answer; is there a tracking problem?  It’s in the details.


Moving past 3…real counting

Susan Levine, of the University of Chicago hypothesizes that groups of 3 do not really require counting.  Toddlers can recognize groups of 3, beyond that requires true counting.

Preschoolers don’t learn to count unless they’re taught numbers higher than three. Studying children’s ability to understand the connection between number words and their numeric value, psychology professor Susan Levine and PhD student Elizabeth Gunderson found that children whose parents exposed them to the numbers four through ten—both words and objects—grasped the concept of counting faster than children who learned only one through three. Recognizing groups of three, hypothesized Levine, who also codirects Chicago’s Center for Early Childhood Development, doesn’t require actual counting. For the study, researchers videotaped interactions between parents and 44 kids between 14 and 30 months.

So when that parent tells you “I had him sit until he could count to 20,” take this knowledge and show them how to truly teach a child to count.  Start with 1.


More Math



Click Here for More Sorting Activities


One of the earliest math concepts to acquire is sorting. Color, shape, amount...


I literally stumbled over this one morning. I had placed a square on the floor with red tape. I didn't mention it or point it out to the kids. In fact, I had another activity in mind. One I can no longer remember.  But before I got to the activity, every child had found a red object in the room and placed it in the square.  What a lesson in classification!   





Sometimes, the simplest activity is the most effective.  Today we threw an assortment of color paper on the table.  Throughout the day, the kids visited it again and again.  Everything from food, cars, blocks to picking up the matching crayon to draw.


Math Games...But Aren't They All Games


Teddy Graham Count Game  

Fill a teddy graham cookie container with 10 plastic bears. 

Shake and roll out some of the bears. 

Have the child count the bears.  This is a good opportunity to teach the child to touch each bear as she counts, lining up the bears as she goes.  Giving math strategies as the child plays will help them to understand one-to-one correspondence and help you assess where the child is developmentally.


Rocks "Rock" 


The first time I dropped some rocks on the table. A boy ran over yelling, "This is the best day ever." 

No reason to spend lots of money on manipulatives when everything you need is sitting in the dirt. 

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Patterns Everywhere

Make sure they are available all around the class.

As Lisa Murphy of says, "Control the environment."

Everything in the class should be touchable.  They will make patterns out of all of it. 


Counter Activities


Click Here for More Counter Ideas

Farm Animals

After reading and reenacting "The Three Little Pigs", building houses of straw, sticks, and bricks, and, yes, rolling in mud, I kept the pigs coming.  Add your favorite counters and count the mud spots.

Patterning and sorting build strong math skills

Patterning and sorting build strong math skills

Counting and Matching Numbers Math challenge while feeding the animals. The best part is if you have a low or no budget classroom it doesn't cost a lot of money to make. 

Counting and Matching Numbers

Math challenge while feeding the animals. The best part is if you have a low or no budget classroom it doesn't cost a lot of money to make. 

Seasonal Erasers

Toss a variety of erasers on the table and let the kids decide what to do.