Counting and Grouping with Sticks. Playful Maths

Apr 20, 2013

Welcome back to the "Playful Maths" weekly series brought to you by

Together, let's make MATHS FUN!


Last week I shared Learning Patterns with Lego.

This week we bring you another 2 Playful Maths Activities using Natural Materials. 

This week we are focusing on counting and grouping.
Other skills involved include fine motor, teen numbers, writing numbers, number recognition, counting on etc.

Ages: 4+ (Maddie is currently 4)
(See the Handy Tips at the bottom to simplify or extend to meet your child's needs)

Materials: Sticks/Twigs, Small elastics, paper and markers (optional)
(I used approximately 32 sticks for this activity which we collected from the garden and I trimmed to size)

I presented my daughter with a pile of sticks and asked her to tell me how many there were.
She started moving them from one side to the other as she counted (as she's learnt to do) but as the pile was quite large she started to get muddled and lose track of which sticks she'd counted.

I asked her to count out 10 sticks so that we could make a group of 10 to make it easier for us to count the sticks.

She attempted to put the elastic around the bundle of sticks but her method wasn't working so I demonstrated how to do it on the first bunch.

We then compared a bundle (group) of 10 to 10 more loose sticks.
I asked, "How many sticks in this pile?" (she counted them again)
"How many sticks in this group?" (we counted them again to confirm there were still 10 sticks there)

How many sticks all together?

Working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, I showed her how to hold the elastic so that she could make her own groups.

It was still very tricky for her (age 4) but the more she practiced the better she got.

She asked me what the paper and markers were for. I explained they were there in case we needed them or if we wanted to write anything so she grabbed a pen and started writing down the number 10 and putting the groups of 10 sticks next to the numeral. 

We spent a lot of time counting sticks and making groups of 10, always reiterating the difference between the number of sticks and the number of groups (bundles) by asking, "How many sticks are in this group, again?"

We discovered it was easier for her to put the elastics on the group if I held the bundle of sticks for her.

Keen to write numbers, I encouraged her to write and show me different amounts using the groups.
This way we had a visual representation of what we were doing, allowing her to make connections between the concrete materials and the written numeral.

This led to some basic addition. 10 and 1 more is 11. 10 and 2 more is 12.

If needs be, allow your child to un-bundle the groups and re-count. This is quite an abstract concept for children (ie. that this one group represents 10). The more times they practice this, the better their understanding.

Children who have practiced these skills many times and had a lot of exposure to numbers might be ready to start noticing that the written numbers show how many 10's (eg the group of 10 sticks) and how many 1's (eg. the single sticks). For example, 12 is 1 group of 10 and 2 more.. 20 is 2 groups of 10 and 0 more)

When counting objects with your children, always encourage them to move them from one side to the other as they count.

"10 sticks and 10 more sticks is 20 sticks all together." "2 groups of 10 is 20." "10 + 10 = 20"
Children could write number sentences.

Turn it into a Game
We then played a little game. She was the "shopkeeper" and she sold "chocolate sticks"
I was the "customer" and I wanted to purchase 16 "chocolate sticks"

Materials: Bundles of sticks and 10 single sticks
The challenge: Get the customer the amount of sticks they need without unbundling any groups.

Despite all the prior experience she was still inclined to always start with the single sticks.
She would count them out, declare there weren't enough and go to unbundle the sticks.
I explained they were a "10 pack of chocolate sticks" and couldn't be sold separately.

We practiced counting-on from 10 to get the correct amount of sticks
(point to the bundle and say "10," and then each individual stick, "11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16")

We enjoyed swapping roles after each turn. Whoever was the customer got to write the number of sticks they wanted to buy and then pass it to the shopkeeper to get the correct amount.

Repeat for as long as your child is interested.

Handy Tips

- Simplify this activity by providing much fewer sticks and focusing on basic counting. 
  • You could have children make different groups using 10 sticks to see the different numbers that make up the number 10.  (ie, 2 groups of 5 sticks, a group of 4 and 6 sticks etc)
  • Roll a die and ask your child to count out that amount of sticks.
  • Play shopkeepers with smaller numbers (0-10) and still take turns writing or recognising the number and finding the corresponding amount of sticks

- Extend this activity by:
  •  Encouraging the writing of number sentences (ie 10 and 6 is 16 or 10+6=16 etc)
  • Go larger and practice higher numbers with a greater amount of sticks
  • Talking about 10's and 1's. How many 10's in 20? Let's figure it out. 

- Mix it up by doing similar activities using different materials ie. paddle pop sticks, flowers (could put 10 flowers in a vase), pebbles (could put groups of pebbles in little bags) etc.

- Use the mathematical language that goes naturally with this activity, such as groups of, count-on, etc.

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

Playful Maths with Blocks
(Click the pictures to go to the post)
 Estimating for Kids, Estimation Activity, Sorting Activity, Colour Activity, Color Activity, Counting Activity  3D shape structures math activity
    Counting and measuring with lego: preschool maths game!

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

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

You can see the rest of our Playful Maths here

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

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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