Counting Books + Activities: Developing Early Math Skills

Counting Books + Activities: Developing Early Math Skills

 Counting Book plus Activities. Math themed books and simple math activities are cornerstones of our first math curriculum.

Counting Books and book-based simple math activites are cornerstones of our first math curriculum.  It’s a fun way to learn and this approach allows to develop mathematical understanding in a natural context.  From counting muffins to eyes of a fox, from tallying train cars to counting down minutes to bedtime, math is everywhere.  In this post I want to give you an inspiration to teach math concepts with your kids favorite stories. 


Counting books and activities.  The Bakers' Dozen: a Counting Book by Dan Andreasen. In the center of this counting book is a merry baker.  As he goes through his busy morning, the numbers 1-12 are represented by his yummy creations until it’s opening time and 13 hungry customers show up at the door.

Baker’s Dozen: A Counting Book by Dan Andreasen

In the center of this counting book is a merry baker.  As he goes through his busy morning, the numbers 1-12 are represented by his yummy creations until it’s opening time and 13 hungry customers show up at the door.  As you go through the book, encourage kids to count cakes, pies and sticky buns.  Compare the number of sweets by asking: How many éclairs did he make?  One. How many chocolate cakes?  Two.  Is there more éclairs or chocolate cakes? 

You can even practice a simple addition and subtraction.  First read, “With fruit from mixing bowls he fills six jelly rolls,” then ask, How many more rolls does he need to make to get to number 10? (encourage kids to use their fingers to find the answer).  He made 6 jelly rolls but he stacked them too high on a plate (see book illustration) and two fell down.  How many are left? 

If you have 20 minutes to print out the corresponding number of sweets, make a simple Number Book with kids.  In our book, number is written on the left and a corresponding number of sweets is glued on the right.  We printed the sweets off the internet. 

Another fun thing to do is to bake a real treat mentioned in the book or your favorites.  Let kids measure and count the ingredients and the final product.  We made mini-muffins from The Healthy Mind cookbook (combing fun with healthy never felt as good).



Counting book and activities. Ten Red Apples: A Bartholomew bear Counting Book by Virginia Miller. Counting with apples is fun, if your kids are as crazy about apples as mine are.

Ten Red Apples: A Barthlomew Bear Counting Book by Virginia Miller

Counting with apples is fun, if your kids are as crazy about apples as mine are.  At the start of the story there are ten green apples on an apple tree.  One by one apples turn red.  So as the number of red apples increases, the number of green apples decreases.  This book is great for practicing counting, one-to-one correspondence, addition, and subtraction.  I love large and bright watercolor illustrations.  I like that on each page the number is written as a word, shown as a digit, and as apples to count.  

If you can stop by a teacher’s store (or amazon) and buy a bag of apple cutouts you will have no end of apple activities to go with this book.  My kids love I’m an Apple Tree game that we made up once when my kids were especially energetic.  We taped apples to ice cream sticks.  One child is an apple tree and stays motionless.  As I read each page the other kids add apples to “the apple tree.”  They have to make each apple stay on the body: in the band of the pants, in armpits, in socks … as you can imagine there is no end of giggling with this game.  

Another good activity is to draw a large apple tree and attach apples to it as you read each page.  Or kids can use apples to make their own counting book.  Or another one we like we call Apple Rows.  As I read a book one child puts apples in rows and another child adds corresponding digit on top.  We like to use Melissa and Doug wooden number magnets

Counting Books and Activities. Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews. On each page a black dot is a part of a bigger picture.  It can be an eye of a fox, a wheel of a train, and lots of other things.

Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews 

Ten Black Dots is one of my favorite early math books.  With this book kids can not only practice counting to ten and one-to-one correspondence (an important math skill for preschoolers) but also simple addition and drawing.  On each page a black dot is a part of a bigger picture.  It can be an eye of a fox, a wheel of a train, and lots of other things.  If you can get hold of ten dots (we like this set), kids will be delighted to place them on each page as they count. 

To practice addition, read first “Six dots can make marbles that you hold – half are new, the rest are old.”  Then point to three marbles in one hand and three marbles in another.  You can ask, “3 here and 3 there, how much does it make?”  Another thing I love about this book is how easy it turns into an art lesson.  Draw a couple of dots on a page and ask them to turn them into a drawing.  We made our own dot books making black dots on each page with black paint and wine cork.  There are some fantastic activities on the web to go with this book!  You can easily turn it into a week of lessons.  

Counting books and activities. Ten Minutes till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann. For some reason I don’t understand this almost wordless book is my kids’ favorite.


Ten Minutes till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann

Counting backwards was a bit harder for my kids to master than straightforward counting.  We started with simple finger rhymes like Five Little Ducks and Ten in Bed.  The next step was to get a couple of counting down books.  For some reason I don’t understand this almost wordless book is my kids’ favorite.  I bought it on amazon without reading anything about it just because we love other Peggy Rathmann’s books and my first reaction to it when we got it was, “It makes NO SENSE!”  To really get what’s going on you have to pay attention to a computer screen on one of the pages BEFORE the title page.  I actually missed it the first time.  On a computer screen reader can get a glimpse of an ad for Hamster Tours.  Apparently the boy’s hamster offers a 10-minute tour of his boy’s bedtime routine.  At the start of the story ten hamsters arrive wearing shirts numbered 1-10.  (The numbers 2 and 8 stray from tour group.  Don’t forget to find them).  At the half-way mark, as the boy is reading his bedtime story, more hamsters arrive spilling out of cars and buses.  They fill the house and that’s when things get really interesting.  All the while the father, hidden behind his huge newspapers, is counting downs the last ten minutes to bedtime.    

With this book you can make a bedtime chart, numbering activities that have to be accomplished before bed.  Kids can count out as they move along.  We have only 6 on our chart: #6- Bath, #5 – Snack, #4 – Brush teeth, #3 – Potty, #2 – PJ and diapers, #1 – Books, and finally – BEDTIME!


Counting Books and activities.  Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure by Doreen Cronin.  Learning to count to ten and back is fun with this rhyming, silly book about farm animals.

Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: a Counting Adventure by Doreen Cronin

Learning to count to ten and back is fun with this rhyming, silly book about farm animals.  While the farmer is napping on a coach the farm animals break into the house to free the goldfish.  Numbers 1-10 mark the steps animals need to take to accomplish their goal.  Numbers 10-1 is countdown of goldfish jumping into the pond.  This counting book is entertaining and educational all in one package. 

Turn this book into a play with each kid taking turn acting the story out.  (it’s a lot of fun, believe me!)  

“1 famer sleeping (lie down on a couch or imaginary couch)
2 feet creeping (imitate duck walk)
3 buckets piled high (if you don’t have 3 buckets just move hands imitating stacking motion)
4 chickens standing by (pretend climbing on top of buckets)” etc, etc.

After you get through the story a few times kids will recite the words from memory. Volunteer to act the story and make mistakes on purpose, “One farmer sleeping, three feet creeping…”  “No, TWO Feet creping!!!”  Kids will delight in correcting your “mistakes.” 

Another activity my kids like with this book is a puppet show.  First, print out pics of animals involved in a story.  You can find free images online or make copies of book pages and cut animals out. Another alternative is cutting animals out of various magazines or using Barnyard Foam Stickers. Once you have animals, tape them to sticks (ice cream sticks or any sticks you find outside on your walk).   Use puppets to act the story in the book, and then come up with some new plot twists. 

Counting Books and activities.  Tally O'Malley by Stuart J. Murphy. I came across this book in our library by accident when I was looking for books to practice counting by 5s. Tally O’Malley by Stuart J. Murphy

I came across this book in our library by accident when I was looking for books to practice counting by 5s.  I fell in love with it, as well as with other Stuart Murphy’s books.  It turned out that the author has the whole series called Math Start that shows math is all around us and it’s fun.  These books are super effective for teaching specific math concepts being targeted.  In Tally O’Malley a family of 5 is driving in a car for hours on end to get to their vacation spot.  As kids are getting restless (who wouldn’t?) mom suggests playing tally game.  Each kid picks a color and they begin tallying passing cars.  At the rest stop they tally T-shirts and when they get to their destination they tally train cars. 

The concept is clearly presented, illustrations are fun and the storyline is definitely familiar to most kids (boring car trip).  My kids couldn’t wait to try their hand in tallying as soon as we read the book. 

The extension activities at the end of the book are fantastic.  My favorite is calling out a random number and making tally marks to represent that number.  I will share our favorite tallying game soon.


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  15. Looks like a great list! I really love Teeth, Tails and Tenticles– it’s a great counting book for boys and goes up to 20. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the recommendation. We always look for more books!

  16. […] so many great posts to choose from! My favorite post this week is Counting Books + Activities: Developing Early Math Skills […]

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