When my son first became interested in numbers and counting, I quickly jumped into teacher mode and created a “Math Exploration Box” which he could explore on his own or we could work on together. With young children, the most important teaching tool is the world around them. Seeing numbers around them– on signs, books, food cartons etc and counting things that are meaningful to them– how many stuffed bears, peas on your plate, m&ms in your treat bag. These are the things that are real to them. They are things they see each and everyday. Counting objects on a piece of paper, in my opinion, is not the way to go.
So, what did we put in our Math Box? Here is a list of the items we included:
COUNTING BOOKS: I would put a counting book in the box, leave it there for a week or so and then rotate in a new book. I always put books that were once in the box back in later on so my son could rediscover it later on. There are so many wonderful counting books out there that this list could go on forever, but these are some of our favorites:
- Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count on by Lois Elhert
- Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews
- Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh
- Construction Countdown by KC Olson
- Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo LeSieg
COUNTERS: This can be any number of things from beans to small blocks to cotton balls. I put these cool vehicle counters I bought a local toy store in the box. My son loves them, they are great for all sorts of math activities and they are fun to play with. They come in all sorts of other shapes as well.
Math Skills: Sorting, Counting
DICE: Dice are not only great teaching tools, but they are fun and motivating. Dice come in all sorts of shapes and colors and you can even make your own! See our post, Teacher Mama: Creating Your Own Dice for Learning.
Math Skills: Number Recognition, Counting, Adding, Subtracting
SHAPES: Shapes are everywhere in our everyday world. Rectangles are our refrigerators, circles are the balls we bounce, triangles are in the arrows that point us in the right direction and squares (and rectangles) are the books we read. You really don’t need anything more than everyday objects, but a set of colored shape blocks or even paper cut out shapes are a nice addition to a math box.
Math Skills: Shapes Recognition, Sorting, Colors, Shape Attributes (sides, angles etc).
MEASURING TOOLS: I rotated these as well. Some weeks we had rulers and tape measures, others we had measuring cups and measuring spoons. Scales and weights are another great addition if you have access to them.
Math Skills: Numbers, Measurement, Units of Measure for Weight, Length, Volume and Height
SHAPE STENCILS: While we do not expect young children to use stencils with accuracy, they are a tool that they will encounter again and again throughout their schooling. Simply showing children what to do with them and letting them explore is enough. In addition, kids love them. My son LOVES using them to create Shape Robots.
Math Skills: Shape Identification, Lines, Line Segments
PRETEND MONEY: Kids love money and money is math. There are so many things that can be done with pretend money. These are paper cut outs because I do not quite trust that the smaller coins won’t end up in the wrong place if you know what I mean. Money can be sorted, piled up, and used to play store.
Math Skills: Coin/Bill Identification, Basic Money Concepts
CALCULATOR: I know you must be thinking, “What? A calculator for this age? No way!” But I say, “Yes! Yes!” I cannot tell you the amount of time both my boys have spent playing with a calculator. What began as a fun, button-pushing activity has now evolved into using a calculator to play store and coffee shop! And, holy smokes– there are numbers on that thing!
Math Skills: Number Recognition, VERY Basic Calculator Skills
SORTING DISHES: It is nice to have something to use for sorting whatever it is you want to sort. I have a bunch of these small sized cups in our box for sorting. Empty cottage cheese or yogurt containers are great for this. Small paper plates too.
Math Skills: Sorting
SIMPLE NUMBER LINE OR CHART: I am a visual learning. Most boys are visual learners. So, having something hanging up either in the kitchen, bedroom or even the bathroom that has the numbers 1-10 clearly written with accompanying number of objects is a must. As the children get older, the number line can go to 20 then 50 then 100.
Math Skills: Number Recognition, Counting, Numerical Sequencing
Now, you have all the ingredients for a Math Exploration Box! Don’t ever underestimate the importance of simple exploration. This “box” does not have to a script. Allow your child to open it up and discover what is inside. Let him lead the journey. You may be surprised about where he takes you on HIS mathematical journey.
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