Teaching toddlers to count: 1 to 5 workjobs and Montessori style tray activities

Here are some more counting activities for toddlers and preschoolers who are learning to count from 1 to 5. If your child has learnt the number order by rote (ie. can count out loud to 5) and is beginning to develop one-to-one correspondence (matching one verbal number to each object being counted) then they are ready to start simple hands-on counting activities like these. You may even like to set out only the numbers 1 to 3 to begin with. If you are new to teaching toddlers how to count, it might be helpful to read this post first.

I ask the children to order the pie tins from 1 to 5 and sort out the golf tees by colour before counting each group and placing them into the correct pie tin. Use a number strip for young children to follow until they know the number order without help.

Kinesthetic learners (and all young children) love the hands-on style of these activities and despite the fact that  this group is far from my favourite set of tray activities, I included them to show you how a quick search around the house will furnish you with plenty of materials to set up your own.

This is one of the first counting activities I introduce. The shapes are sorted by type, matched to the example at the start of the row and counted into the bottle tops. Beginners will often just fill up the bottle tops without having any idea of the numbers, but I simply have them read the number and count the objects as we take them out and pack them away.

Unfortunately this workjob doesn’t photograph well but the shiny silver contact paper and blue jewels are very attractive to little ones. The box comes from a packet of plastic food wrap. The jewels are placed into plastic shot glasses which are numbered from 1 to 5.

I bought these secondhand metal goblets for our pretend play home corner because they are unbreakable. Pegs of many varieties slide nicely over the thin sides. Placing dots under the numerals means that children who do not recognise their numbers can count how many dots there are until they can recall the numeral name.

All my young ones have enjoyed hammering golf tees and other items into these polystyrene foam blocks covered with loose weave hessian-like fabric. The red washers come from a set of many shapes and sizes raided from Grandad’s shed with the numerals marked on them in permanent marker.

Chip and dip trays are handy for many different activities.These wooden numbers came from a baby puzzle toy and the items are an eclectic assortment from my Montessori materials drawers.

Pegging is good for fine motor development. The child counts the number of feathers on each peg and matches the peg to the correct number of dots on the card circles left from used sticky tape rolls. The box is just the storage for the feathers and rolls.

These beads and frame are a commercially produced toy that I picked up secondhand for a couple of dollars. Keep an eye out for this kind of material at op shops and swap-meets. The tiles are from an old game I bought for $2 at a secondhand store. I threw out the game and just kept the tiles.

Another commercially produced toy picked up for a couple of dollars with baby food jar lids for the numbers.

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.