Bottle Top Calculator. Number Writing and Recognition. Playful Maths

Mar 9, 2013

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Welcome once again to the "Playful Maths" weekly series brought to you by

Together, let's make MATHS FUN!


This week we bring you 2 Playful Maths Activities using Bottle Tops. 

Today's activity from us focuses on "Number Recognition and Number Writing" 

This activity also includes counting,  subitising and pretend play and could include addition, subtraction etc.

Ages: 2+
(M has just turned 4. See the bottom for handy tips to Extend or Simplify to meet your child's needs)

Making your Bottle Top Calculator

Materials: 12 Plastic Recycled Bottle Tops, a piece of thick recycled cardboard, all purpose glue, scissors, marker and foam number stickers (optional).

  • Cut your cardboard to size
  • Stick (or write) the numbers 0-9 on ten of the bottle tops and write "on" and "off" on the remaining two.
  • Glue your number and word bottle tops on your cardboard
  • Draw in a "screen"

Free Play

I presented a real calculator with our bottle top calculator to explore with.

My daughter asked for the extra bottle tops so she could use them as money that she needed to calculate.

Extend the Play

Once the kids had enjoyed the calculator as it was, 
I cut the "screen" out of the cardboard to extend the play 
and allow for other learning opportunities.

To begin I wrote some numbers down a sheet of paper and she found the corresponding number.

She loved sliding the paper to reveal the next hidden number.

You can encourage subitising by putting in the dots and get them to see how quickly they can find the corresponding number.

Then she wanted to write the numbers in herself (which was the original idea behind the design)

Sometimes she pressed numbers and wrote them in. 
Other times, in order to practice her teen numbers I would ask her to put "12" on the calculator.

This allowed us to really talk about the order of numbers and which went first (eg the 1 or the 2? A common area children struggle with.) as she had to press the numbers one at a time.
We could see on a real calculator that when we pressed the numbers the first one would move along one space to the left. This allowed her to see how to write it in the space.

She insisted on practicing some numbers again and again. It was great having the numbers on the bottle tops so that she could copy them.

Handy Tips:

- Simplify this activity by just giving the play calculator for them to explore and use in imaginative play. Try some basic instructions like, "can you find the 4?"

- You can Extend this activity in many ways:
  • With the window screen cut out, challenge your child to find numbers, already written around the house (try labels, books etc) to display through the window.
  • Add some extra buttons to your calculator eg. "+" "-" and use these to encourage practicing basic sums
  • Have some larger numbers already written on some paper for them to feed behind the calculator. They can then find the numbers on the calculator and count out corresponding amounts of bottle tops.
  • Have the children make their own calculators

- Make the screen reusable by putting a white board behind it or painting the screen with blackboard chalk so that you can write in the numbers, rub off and write again.

- Mix it up by presenting your child with the same materials to see what they could create.

- Allow children the freedom to explore and investigate on their own. They will often come up with ideas or experiences that we would not have thought of. It also gives them the opportunity to make these discoveries and learn new skills themselves without being shown them.

- Have you see the rest of the Playful Maths series from us and The Imagination Tree?
Below are our previous posts using various everyday materials. 

Playful Maths Plastic Bottle Activities
(click the pictures to go to the posts)

   measuring activity, measuring for kids, rice play, sensory play, maths for kids, fun maths, hands-on maths       

Playful Maths Paper Tube Activities
(click on the pictures to go to the posts)

  maths for kids, fun maths, numeracy, maths activity

Playful Maths Egg Carton Activities
(click on the pictures to go to the posts)


Don't forget to join us next week where we're bringing you more Playful Maths activities.

Bottle Tops have so many uses. How do you use them for play?

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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  1. Oh this is great Debs! You are so clever...

    1. haha, we really loved it so I'm thrilled you like it :)

  2. How fun! This is a great idea. My boys would love it.

    1. Thanks Allison. The boys could even make them, themselves. My daughter usually makes all of ours but I liked the idea of it being a surprise this time. :)

  3. That's amazing, surely do it !
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Fabulous, we'd love to see a picture if you do make it. Thanks! :)

  4. Oh, I love the writing part of this! Awesome!

    1. Thanks! The writing part was the original idea but there's still plenty of fun to be had if people aren't wanting to write. :)

  5. Oh you know how much I love this! It turned out so brilliantly!

  6. I love this. We are working on numbers, so this will be great. You always have GREAT ideas. Thanks! (Momma's Fun World)

  7. Such a fun idea, especially with a white board. However, I think my oldest would be upset that it doesn't work like the real calculator that he has been carrying around with him everywhere for the past year and a half. I will have to try it out with my 18 month old though.

    And I also love your use of recycled objects. I do it all the time too (you will see so on my blog if you check it out).

    Anyway, thanks for the.awesome idea!

    1. Thanks. :) Funnily enough, my daughter loves her real calculator but because this was completely different and new she only wanted to engage with it and not the real calculator. I put them both out hoping perhaps she'd compare them or use them together but she ditched the real one completely lol. Just depends on the child, doesn't it? :)
      I'll be sure to check out your blog and see how what you've been up to with recycled materials as well :)

  8. I just LOVE this!!! So fun! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks Rachel! It's actually one of my favourite activities yet :D

  9. Very clever, very creative and great for the classroom too.

    1. Especially if they're put over whiteboards. :) I'm actually making up a few of them so I can use them when I return to teaching. Thanks :)

  10. Very creative idea.
    Fun to make AND to play with :)

  11. This is adorable! My kids would love to make one to take home and play in our classroom!!

    1. Thanks Deborah. I look forward to using these with my students when I return to the classroom myself. If you do end up giving them a go with the kids I'd love to hear how they go with them :D

  12. This is great! I tried it out with my son and now he has moved off from using it as a calculator and imagines it is an ATM or that he is billing my groceries for me, or recently that he was buying gas for his toy car.

    1. Fantastic to hear Saisudha! Thanks for letting us know :)

  13. Excellent!!!...very cute...thanks and hugs!!..

  14. Good idea, Debs! I'll do it for my kid, too. It is very educational, and most importantly - interesting!

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