Sunday, February 19, 2012

Six New Math Games & Activities!

Tyler's interest in math-related activities has continued to push forward! Without being able to purchase supplies for even homemade Montessori red rods or a Spindle Box, I've been a bit frozen in fear (if you notice, we did a lot of art projects for a couple weeks!). I really don't want to go too outside of Montessori tradition with teaching him mathematical concepts, but I decided to get over it and keep him learning, doing the best that I can. What I've come up with is fun and he takes all of this off the shelf several times a day to work, so hey, must be I'm doing okay right?!

If you missed the last set of math games and activities, you can find them here.

"Get to Ten!" Caterpillar Counting Game
This is a game I thought of while creating another activity. It's been a huge hit!

The game uses two boards, one for each player, with a caterpillar that has ten circles for its body. There are twenty puffballs and just enough number cards to get two players to twenty. To strengthen his association of quantity to number, you can see that we're using the visual number cards I created for sorting a few weeks ago rather than numbers

We take turns drawing a card, then announce the number of dots on it.

We then place that number of puffballs onto our caterpillar, starting at one and working towards ten. The goal is to fill up your caterpillar. 

Ty took to this game so well! He loved the concept and it was just easy enough for him to enjoy it. My goal is to show him, in a non-obvious way, how adding certain numbers together can get you higher numbers, more precisely, to ten. I've talked about it a little bit "You're half-way to ten!" or "You're on seven! You need three more to get to ten!". If he were a bit older I would have him write down each number and then we could look back to see how the numbers added up to ten.

Another way we may play soon will be to fill up our caterpillars and then subtract rather than add.

For fun, here's a video clip of us playing!

What Number is Missing?
This game is called "What's Missing?" a game inspired by a pin I came across browsing Pinterest. I made cards 1-20 (though we're mostly using 1-10 as that's most relevant to Montessori number line work), as I know he has 1-20 down really well. I place several them in numerical order, with one number left out. His job is to figure out what the missing number is. 

When Ty figures out the number, I give it to him and he then places it in the proper place in line. The first time we played I left a little gap where the number was missing, now I don't. This game is working a bit towards taking a number line work out and lining up the numbers himself, as well as a bit problem solving. 

I was tickled to see that he automatically started checking his work after placing the missing letter the second time we played, counting from start to finish to be sure it was correct.

Dot to Dots
The next activity combines fine motor and counting. Knowing how much Ty loves to both count and use markers, I figured working on dot-to-dots may attract him.

 He did better than I thought he would! We started off doing 1-4 then 1-5 on his wipe board. I liked that we can do this as many times as we like without using up a ton of paper.

Quantity Boards
After many, many months of hiding out in our Montessori-inspired work box, I took out these cards out again. I can't believe how young Ty was when I first tried this (21 mos). He couldn't have gotten as much out of it as he is now! We used pennies then, but gems are more interesting to him at the moment, so we used them instead. His job is to place one gem on each circle which corresponds with the number.

This next work uses caterpillars again. Tyler's job is to put a puffball on each circle in the caterpillar's body, which matches the number beside it. It's much like the gem/number card work above it, though it a better visual for the concept of higher numbers meaning "more". 

Learning Visual Numbers 1-100
One of Tyler's present for Christmas from his Grandmother was this awesome mp3 player, the SweetPea3. While I can't say enough good things about the product, it has also caused Tyler to be interested in learning a lot of high numbers, as all 167 songs that we loaded appear on the screen as numbers, in order. He enjoys being independent with his player so he naturally wanted to learn what numbers his favorite songs were past twenty. While he is able to read many of them, he has been eager to learn them all.
To help him learn to read numbers up through 100, I created a number line by tens for him. He has counted to 1-99 recently and can count higher, but had some trouble remembering a couple of his tens. I know that learning to read numbers and counting high without quantity meaning behind it isn't important in Montessori, but it's important to Tyler, so I have to follow his lead. He literally learned how to count by tens with or without the number line by the next day. I can't tell you how proud he is and how great he does reading numbers on his mp3 player for us now!

Updates & Changes From Our Last Math Post
We continue to play Go Fish with number flashcards 1-20. It is one of Tyler's favorite activities right now for sure! Though I keep switching-up the numbers we play with (we each get five and there are six in the go fish pile), he still knows almost instantly by the back of the cards (which show the quantity of the number on the front) what card is what. Though he thinks he's getting away with "cheating" by finding the match he needs by glancing at the cards in the go fish pile (or the cards in my hand), I'm quite happy that he is connecting quantity with number. The backs of the cards all differ in way of objects or trains, but from what I've seen he doesn't seem to pay a ton of attention to that when's more about the quantity of objects. 

We continue to do our daily calendar work, crossing off the day before and naming the present day. Tyler knows where yesterday is, names the number that is the present day and counts off the days that are gone, left to right, top to bottom. He enjoys finding random days/numbers that haven't arrived yet and naming them, or finding a specific number. He can be found looking at the calendar by himself doing these tasks! I'm so glad we started this daily work. I feel like he has gained so much with so little "effort". We usually only spend about a minute on this together every day while he explores on his own and gets my attention if he needs clarification or to know if he's correct about something.

In the last few weeks Ty has mastered counting to ten on his fingers, but sometimes wants to count higher. I've shown him how if I add some of my fingers we can count higher together. I'm really working on the concept that he has ten as a base, and that we can add a certain number of my fingers to get to 11-20, which is a  bit of a Montessori bead concept. We also count our hands by 10's and sometimes by fives. He wants to do this often.

Our jumping a certain amount of times game hasn't changed, but I did make him a die so that he could play by himself if my husband and I are busy. I simply taped numbers around the die we have from a Discovery Toys game with packing tape, but there are many ideas on the web for creating your own die if you don't have anything to use. Tyler likes when we give him two numbers to choose from, so each side of the die has two as well. He still almost always picks the highest number!

Math Understanding = Better Emotional Control
With all of this number understanding, I have to say that it's so much easier for all of us when Tyler has to wait for something such as dinner to be done or snack time to start. When we say that something will be ready "soon", he understands, but whining and crying around not getting what he wants that very instant has started recently. Now, if we give him a number of minutes rather than the word "soon", he instantly calms down. He gets that concept. He trusts it. It's much more concrete. We were trying to remember to count down for him every minute as we rushed about doing things, but now we simply set the timer on the stove for him to reference. It has been a fabulous tool!  
Next I hope to make Tyler the Sandpaper Numbers. He tries to trace the numbers on all of his number cards as he's used to doing that with his Counting Boards with Sandpaper Numerals, so it's well past time to make them!

Please remember that this level of math isn't expected of toddlers or some of it even preschoolers. Tyler has a keen sense for math that is unusual at this stage. If your child isn't willing or able to do these activities, they are perfectly normal! Every single child is different. Please follow whatever your child is into. 


  1. Lots of great number and counting ideas! Thanks, stopping by from Tot School, Our Homespun Haven.

  2. I love your activities. When I first started math with Bear at around 18 months, I didn't have a way to have the Montessori things shipped to Costa Rica where we lived at the time. I had to do a lot of math games (I was also following her lead). Once I had the Montessori materials though, I found she wasn't as attracted to them as I had thought. Also, don't feel like you have to follow the Montessori method completely. What I mean is that your son already has a great grasp of numbers and that the number rods may be redundant by the time you can have them. Actually, do you have Duplos or Legos. I have better luck with number rods built of those than with the actual rods I own with my two kids:) There are many kids who never have Montessori and are completely brilliant. I know the feelings you described at the beginning though about just needing to get over it. In the end, you followed your son's lead and I think that is the Montessori essence.

  3. I agree with the above commenter! You followed Ty`s lead- his love of numbers- and went with it. Sometimes it is not possible to have the "real" materials but in this day and age with so many other things we can use {or recycle!} at our disposal and when doing Montessori at home and not in a school I think it is impossible to purchase everything you would need for a Montessori classroom.

    I am not a traditional Montessori mama at all- I love the method and I want to implement it with my kids as much as possible but I know I will never do as good a job as others or have the materials that I SHOULD use at my disposable!

    Loving the maths posts, as you know, because my older boy is also really into numbers at the moment.

  4. Thank you both so much. I really feel better after reading your comments! My trouble is that we really hope to be able to send Tyler to Montessori school in the fall or winter and I don't want to mess anything up for him before he gets there. I'd rather he learn the true Montessori way, but you're right, I think we're doing pretty okay following his lead. While I feel like he has a good understanding, I just wonder exactly what he's missing with the rods etc that he'll have to go back and learn, but I realized just now that he'll probably pick it up fast! Thank you again. :)

    The Girl Who Painted Trees: My husband's mother grew up in Costa Rica until she was 17! They lived in the rainforest for a while then right on the ocean near Limon. Are you or your husband from Costa Rica?

  5. Nice activities! I especially like the caterpillar/counting game :)

  6. My husband was born there and lived there until he was 15.

  7. These are great activities! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great activities, Jen! I totally agree with Julie and Lulu. You're doing a wonderful job of following Tyler's lead, and many activities can be used instead of the traditional Montessori materials. I think where children take longer fitting into a Montessori school is if they haven't had practical life activities to develop order, concentration, coordination, and independence. You're doing an awesome job!

    Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned your caterpillar math game to my Caterpillar-Butterfly Unit Study Pinterest board at

  9. Today I did both caterpillar activities and the quantity boards. My 27 month old loved these activities. Thanks for sharing :)

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