Activity: using simpletools for math

Some materials can be used for multiple activities. By utilizing simple tools, you can pair them with various themes and help children recall prior knowledge when learning a new skill.

Two tools that we use repeatedly are our number sticks and empty egg cartons. Egg cartons are great because you can keep them together, cut them apart to make trays, or even cut the cups to smaller quantities. Plus, who cares if they get broken or ripped? Obviously we practice using materials gently, but things inevitably break.

The number sticks were made using tongue depressers, a marker, and stickers. These are used many ways:
- Counting the stickers
- ordinal and skip counting
- ordering from least to most
- ordering most to least
- playing i spy
- playing what is missing?
- adding numbers

I spy with number sticks
A) lay out numbers children are practicing. Take turns saying "i spy with my little eye a __#__". Then another player finds that number.
B) lay out numbers that children are practicing.  Take turns saying "i spy with my little eye a number that is more than/less than __#__". Then another player finds the number.
The spy can give multiple clues if your children are ready for it.

What is missing? With number sticks
Lay out the numbers that the children have mastered or almost mastered. Have them close their eyes and remove one number stick from view. They can then guess which number is missing. You can make it more difficult by asking them to explain how they knew which number was missing.

Math turkey with egg carton and number sticks
My original concept combining these two items was intended to increase number sense and one to one correspondence. I put our colorful number sticks into dough, made holes on the bottom bumps of an egg carton, and provided a basket of clothes pins. On your turn, you pick a "turkey feather" (number stick), that many pins (the baby turkeys) into the carton. My kids are still learning games with multiple directions, so they could play this with help.

Color sort
Currently in our classroom, it is being used as a color sorting fine motor activity. I have kids that love to dump and fill, so it is working for their developmental level. Plus I love that it is an independent activity.

Drop and Count
We also re-use a lot of paper rolls. Here it is paired with an egg carton and dry Boba Beads*. The children poured the beads into the roll with their hands and we practiced counting how many beads went into each divot. 

*Boba Beads are tapioca and used to make bubble tea. They are non-toxic so it is okay to have around young children. Plus you can cook them and they become gooey sensory awesomeness.

Speech practice integration
When a child is using one of these items independently, ask if you can play with them. So long as they are enjoying the interaction, put the loose pieces out of the child's reach. Offer the child two choices, "do you want the red or blue pin?" Give the child the desired color after they answer using expressive language that is best for their ability.

Examples of expressive language:
- pointing (at the desired object)
- imitating initial sound or approximate speech ("bu" "ba" "ded" "reh")
- one word sentence ("blue")
- two word sentence ("want blue")
- a complete sentence ("I want blue")

If you know a child is at a higher level then they are presenting, then encourage them to do what they are capable of. They will improve faster if they have to work a little harder. I find telling them "try again" without any emotion and with a model or mirror helps the most. That is, of course, followed with a joyful "you did it! Yay!" And tickles and smiles and hugs and high fives and fist bumps and all kinds of awesomeness.

Keep an eye out for some other tools! I love things that are versatile and will share more in later posts.

What simple tool do you find yourself using over and over?


  1. Those are some great materials! I love how they have multiple uses and are from reusable and wont break my pockets.

  2. Thanks! I love that it shows different ways to use the same items, too. It encourages thinking outside of the box.


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