Number Chef. Fun, hands-on number learning game for kids.

Mar 11, 2015

A fun and hands-on game for toddlers through to early school-age children. Practice counting, number recognition, number writing and more. Great for role-play and as a set up for learning centres and play-based curriculum. See the bottom for handy tips to simplify or extend to suit your children's level. 


At age 3, my son does a lot of rote counting (where he can recite numbers in order from memory) but he is still working on the understanding of what numbers actually mean and represent. Properly understanding numbers, from the written symbol to the many different ways it can be represented is more important than rote-counting and takes multiple experiences over time to consolidate the understanding. Don't get me wrong, it's great if your child can count in order from memory, it's all part of the learning, but that doesn't mean that they understand numbers.

Understanding that a number (eg. three/3) represents a certain, consistent amount of something is a skill that children work on from early on. They are exposed to this kind of understanding through everyday life, like reading stories, (ie. Goldilocks and the Three Bears), talking about family (ie. 3 people in your family), eating and preparing food (3 spoons of honey, 3 pieces of cheese, 3 triangles of sandwich, etc.), while out and about, (look, there are 3 ducks! 3 red cars in a row, etc.) and so on.

As well as through these natural occurrences, we can set up experiences that allow children to practice working with numbers in fun and hands-on ways. The more children play with and are exposed the numbers, the greater their understanding will be. Having a solid foundational understanding of numbers 0 to 10 and what they represent is very important, as this is what your children will be building all their future mathematical knowledge and understanding upon.


For this game, you will need something to write a menu on (we used a whiteboard), some loose parts, (*please supervise toddlers with smaller loose parts that could be a choking risk) some cooking type supplies (tongs, spoon, bowl, chef hat), some sticky-notes and a marker.

Introduce your little chefs to their set up area. By making it look special and inviting, there is a high chance that your child will be thrilled to jump into play!

Explain that for this game, they are the chef and they will need to take orders and make up the food. The different menu items contain different amounts of ingredients. "3 Stew" is made using just 3 of each ingredient (loose parts). "4 Salad" is made using 4 of each ingredient, and so on.

I ordered "3 Stew" first. Things to discuss: Which are we making? What does the number look like? How many of each ingredient do we need?

To help remember the amount of each ingredient needed, as well as to provide a corresponding visual reminder of both the written symbol and the amount, we wrote the number 3 and three dots on a number of sticky-notes and suck them onto each "ingredient"

As the children play, continue to ask them questions to get them referring back to the written number and amount. Ie. How many of each ingredient they are putting in? What does that symbol mean? How do you know you need that many of that ingredient?

Encourage children to count aloud as they include each ingredient.

Before children blend all the ingredients together, have them double check that they have the right amounts. You can make a visual representation of their work, with a picture like this, that they can refer back to.

Then of course you must mix and serve! Repeat with different numbers.


Handy Tips:

Simplify this activity by starting with numbers 1-3 and then slowly extend from there. Leave the menu with options for later and just focus on one number at a time. Sit beside your child and play and talk together. Just putting one of each item into a bowl will be great start and will be a challenge for younger children.

Extend this activity by:
  • Having children design and write up the menu themselves (include some literacy)
  • Encouraging children to write the numbers of the sticky-notes and correspond to the various ingredients (loose parts)
  • Having children allocate different numbers to different ingredients and write up the specific recipes for each menu item. (Children that are more familiar with numbers can work on multiple numbers at once. Each ingredient doesn't have to have the same number on each. Work within the children's range, ie. numbers to 10, or numbers to 20)
  • Working with larger numbers (ie. "42 Stew") and have children count and add up the amount of ingredients that equals that number. (ie. use only 42 ingredient items exactly. How many of each?)
  • Encouraging some further addition by writing the numbers of each ingredient and adding together to get the total number of ingredients ie. 3 (pompoms) + 4 (cubes) + 2 (buttons) = 9 (ingredient items).

- We love using loose parts in our play. Check out our article here on the why, how to store and ways to play with loose parts.


More activity ideas that help us practice counting and number recognition.

Get a copy of our playful science and maths ebook here.



Happy playing,
Debs :)

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