I’ve recently been inspired to create activities to help Lil Dude with number recognition (1-10, mostly). Last week we made a number banner, and I wanted to build on the momentum gained from that experience. In an attempt to find another interactive, discovery-type learning activity for him, I came up with this “game in a box.”
I figure that the more exposure he gets to numbers, the quicker he’ll figure things out. He’s only 2, so I don’t want to sit him down with a textbook and “teach” him (actually, I want to avoid that scene forever, if possible!), but I do want to seize any opportunities to build on his natural curiosity.
I built a lift-the-flap treasure box for him, with the numbers 1-10 on the flaps and plastic bags taped underneath so that each space had its own container. Then I gave Lil Dude some small items (legos, crayons, and cotton balls) and tried to help him put the right number of each object in each number space.
At this stage, one of the most important things about teaching number sense to kids is helping them understand one-to-one correspondence. This means that every item has only one number associated with it. Kids will usually first learn to count as an abstract string of words. They may notice us pointing to objects as we count, so when they try to imitate us they usually “count” numbers and point to objects randomly, not understanding that each element in the big, long “1-10 number word” goes with one object. It may be helpful to demonstrate the counting process slowly or help them count a few things at a time – but they’re really young and they will pick it up through exposure and repetition, so don’t feel like you need to belabor the point in one sitting. 🙂
The final piece of the teaching process here is something I only learned recently – we may need to go the extra step to help kids understand that the last number we say as we’re counting out objects IS the number of objects in that set. This may come naturally to some kids, but it never hurts to write out the final number after counting things out so they can bring this concept full circle and visually match written symbols with concrete groups of objects.
Dice and Ten Frames
I added pictures of dice and ten frames to each flap to help him count out the correct amount that corresponded with each number. (If you haven’t yet heard about my obsession with ten frames, you can read more in this post here, or read more about the benefits of teaching kids numbers using ten frames in my ebook on Ten Frame Math.)
Lil Dude loved playing with the box and putting toys in the little hidden compartments, but he wasn’t so patient with actually counting out the objects (lol – the whole point of the game!). I decided to raise the stakes a bit – we emptied out all the bags and I put a piece of candy in each bag. Then I tried asking him to point out each number, and if he could do it correctly, he got the candy that was hiding inside.
That definitely gave him more reason to focus, but the actual numbers themselves were still too abstract. So instead we counted out the dice dots and the x’s on the ten frames to find a given number, then I would point out the written number once he had pointed and counted with me – it added in another layer of number recognition without being going overboard on “skill-and-drill” techniques.
Here’s the basic instructions, in case you’d like to make (or adapt) this to help your own kids with number recognition.
- You’ll need:
- a large shoe box or any large packaging box (the one I used was a box for boots, and it was about the perfect size),
- a cereal box,
- an exacto knife with a cutting mat,
- a pencil and a marker,
- 10 plastic sandwich bags,
- and tape.
- Open up a cereal box and lay it flat. Trace the bottom of the larger box onto it, then cut it out. This will be the top layer with the flaps underneath the lid. (You could just use the lid of the box, but it’s easier to use an exacto knife on the thin cereal box rather than the thick shoebox cardboard.)
- Sketch out 10 small rectangles on the flat cereal-box rectangle.
- Use the exacto knife to cut out each rectangle, leaving the top still attached.
- Using the marker, label each flap with the numbers 1-10. You can also add dots, dice diagrams, tally marks, ten frames, etc. An older child would be a good helper for this part!
- Turn this whole cardboard sheet over and tape plastic sandwich bags around each opening.
- Lift the lid of the shoebox and tape the flap-board over the opening.
- Gather a pile of small counting objects (pom-poms, cutips, crayons, beans, marbles, etc.)
- Let your child explore and play with the box.
- If they will listen and focus, try asking them to identify certain numbers, or count 8 objects for the 8-flap, or hide treasures under certain numbers and ask them to find the treasure under the flap with 5 dots, … etc. If they don’t entirely get it, don’t worry! Through play and exposure, they’ll pick it up :).
Tips: Cut the flaps big enough that your hand can easily fit in and out! If only little hands can fit, the clean-up process will take a lot of patience ;). Also, tape the bags on with a good amount of strong tape – it only took 10 minutes of play for some of our plastic bags to detach. 0_0.
Have fun learning math with your children today!
More Math Activities
You can see all of my posts about our math activities (with several free printables) on my Math page.
Learning Resources for Teachers, Tutors, and Parents
If you’d like to visit my store to see my library of learning resources (focused on Pre-K – 3rd grade Math, Reading, and Writing, and High School Algebra and Geometry), you can check it out here: