Inside: develop early math skills with fun counting books and hands-on activities.
Counting books are so much fun for little kids and when you add related math activities you got yourself the making of a fantastic math curriculum. Not only it’s a fun way to learn, but also 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 the inspiration to teach math concepts to your kids with their favorite stories.
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Counting Books and Activities
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 desserts. As you go through the book, encourage kids to count cakes, pies and sticky buns. How many éclairs did he make? Are there more buns or chocolate cakes?
You can even practice simple addition and subtraction. How many more rolls does he need to make to get to number 10? 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 a few extra minutes print out pictures of sweets (google images) and make a simple number book with kids. In our book, numbers are written on the left side and a corresponding number of sweets are glued on the right side.
Another fun thing to do is to bake treats mentioned in the book. Let kids measure and count the ingredients and the final product. We made mini-muffins from The Healthy Mind cookbook .
Ten Red Apples: A Bartholomew Bear Counting Book by Virginia Miller
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. On each page, the number is written as a word, shown as a digit, and as apples to count. This book is great for practicing counting, one-to-one correspondence, addition, and subtraction. I love large and bright watercolor illustrations.
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. 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 a corresponding digit on top. We like to use Melissa and Doug wooden number magnets.
Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews
Ten Black Dots is one of my favorite 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.
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 a 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.
Ten Minutes till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann
Counting backward was a bit harder to master than straightforward counting. We started with simple finger rhymes like Five Little Ducks and Ten in Bed and counting down books. 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 was, “It makes NO SENSE!” To get what’s going on you have to pay attention to a computer screen on one of the pages BEFORE the title page. I missed it the first time.
On a computer screen, you see 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. (#2 and #8 stray from the 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 done before bed. It’s very popular when my kids are preschool age. 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!
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 a countdown of goldfish jumping into the pond. This counting book is entertaining and educational.
Turn this book into a play with each kid taking a 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. 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.
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 a 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.
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