Montessori style hands-on maths workjobs: Counting 1 to 10

Following on from yesterday’s post about teaching children to count to 5, here are some ideas for extending counting to 10. Again, all you need is 10 of some kind of container, something to count and numerals to order (or already marked on the containers.) If the child is required to order the numerals themselves, then including a number strip to follow means that they can do it independently without already knowing the order.

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on activities, however all young children need plenty of experience with manipulating concrete materials to develop early maths concepts. Workjobs are explained to the child (catering to auditory learners), demonstrated to the child (visual learners) and then completed by the child (hands-on or kinesthetic learners.) There is no need to use dry math work books in the early stages when these basic concepts can be so easily developed with materials that are enjoyable to use and simple to make.

For children who do not yet recognise their numerals, this workjob is very simple and requires them only to match the number on the plastic balls to the corresponding number on the iceblock tray. I would then alter it into a counting activity by using plain ping-pong balls (no holes) with dots or tiny stickers on each one to count and match to the correct number.

In this activity the child counts the number of stamps and pokes a matchstick through the hole underneath the correct group. The card is self-checking because when you turn over to the back, there is a circle around the correct hole.

This "Princess rings" activity is a favourite of my girls. 10 tiny white jewellery bowls are set out then jewels with the numerals 1 to 10 are placed in order next to each bowl and the rings are counted into each bowl. The rings come from the wedding favours section of my local discount store. We made up all sorts of extra stories about how the princesses shared their rings out and had a lot of fun with this. Sometimes a good story adds so much to the fun of the activity!

The child orders the silver stars (bought from a party supplies shop) from 1 to 10 then counts the stickers on each golden star before matching them to their pair.

Foam stickers on baby food jars and some cheap party bead necklaces cut into lengths make this a bright and attractive counting activity. After ordering the jars from 1 to 10 the child counts the number of beads on each string and drops them into the correct jar. Not a good one for absolute beginners as the beads are quite small and it is easy to miss-count as the higher numbers are reached.

Hands-on maths workjobs: Counting 1 to 5

If you are blessed with a kinesthetic learner, providing hands-on learning experiences is vital. All young child however need to move from tactile or concrete mathematical experiences (where they manipulate objects to develop mathematical understanding) to abstract (“on paper”) experiences.

There is no better way to teach children to count than to have them go ahead and count! The first step is to ensure that they are able to recite the number order. The next step is to develop one-to-one correspondence (matching one number to one object.) After that, let the counting begin! You will need to step them through the process initially with lots of opportunities to count. Use everyday activities around the house to introduce this skill; setting out 4 plates, counting 3 sets of cutlery, placing 5 sultanas on a celery stick, collecting 5 hats for outside play etc.

To transition to the tray activities, you will also need to teach the children how to recognise and order the numerals to 5. This can be done as they complete the activities with self-checking number strips to match the numbers (see the egg carton castles example below) or taught separately before you give them the tray activities.

For homeschoolers, or those who are wanting educational ideas for highchair, mat or table time, here are some hands-on ideas for presenting counting from 1 to 5. While children can easily develop this skill through their every-day experiences around the home, these workjobs will help them to develop concentrating and focussing skills and are a great introduction to more complicated workjobs and Montessori style tray activities that will extend their skills as they grasp each basic beginner skill.

My older toddlers begin with these simple counting activities which virtually guarantee their success and I am able to teach them the general concept of how the experiences are presented and what they need to do. I can then change the materials, extend the numbers and gradually increase the difficulty of the experience to match their developmental levels. They love to manipulate the materials and enjoy the sense of accomplishment once they are able to complete each activity.

Before expecting a child to do the activities independently you will need to spend some time teaching them how to set out the containers, order the numbers and add the appropriate number of objects. Depending on their previous experiences with counting, this may be a very quick or more long-term process. Once they have mastered one counting experience though, the skill is then transferred to the next new activity with only a quick demonstration from Mum.

Any kind of container can be used and with a bunch of something to count and 5 numbers to order you are all set. Ideally workjobs should be self checking so that the child is able to self-correct their own work without your assistance.


This is the first tray counting experience I use. The popsticks are first sorted into colours (with the child already having completed many colour matching and sorting activities previously) before being counted and popped into the correct cup. If children do not yet recognise their numbers they are able to count the small chunks of popstick next to the number to find out which numeral it is. Those who are just beginning can simply match up the colours to find out which cup to put them in. If they are completing the activity with colours rather than numbers, I simply spend time with them counting the number of popsticks in each cup as we pack away the activity until they are able to transition to relying on their counting skills rather than the colours.

Including a number strip for the child to match to as they order their numerals means they can be successful without already knowing the number order. The dots next to the numerals on the side of the castles mean they can count to check how many even if they do not recognise the numeral itself. The correct amount of holes are poked in the castles so that the castle must have the correct number of flags.

Milk bottle tops marked with liquid paper are the numerals here (you could include a number strip to match to if needed) and the size of the cups can be ordered as well for an extra dimension. The child sets out the 5 cups, orders the numerals, then counts out the correct number of pegs for each cup. Pegging is also an excellent fine motor skill.

Coloured pompoms are matched to the same colour sticker in the muffin tin. This is more a one-to-one correspondence experience as no numerals are included, however I have the child count how many there are in each hole before they pack them away.

The numbers are set out first (following the number strip if needed) then the  jewels on each popstick are counted to match the correct number. Popsticks are colour coded to the numerals to make them self-checking.

Check through your cupboards to find a group of containers, write some numbers on anything handy, add something to count and you have a simple counting workjob. Two dollar shops and other discount stores are great for finding appealing bits and bobs to count and manipulate and a multitude of activities can be set up with very little expense or effort required. Young children love to do “school” with their older siblings and this is the perfect introduction for them.