Teaching Pre-Kindergarten Skills: No Flashcards Required | Part 2. Math

Hands-on preschool activities @ blog.jaxinthebox.comThis post is Part 2 of a 3-part series on fun, early learning activities you and your kiddo can do together at home. See [Part 1. Reading] for my philosophy on when and how to introduce these games and why I think it’s important (in moderation of course — just like chocolate). And Part 3: Handwriting suggests three creative ideas for early handwriting practice.

Here are two of our favorite math activities. They are both easy for your child to explore on his own, and require very little adult instruction. My favorite activities are ones during which I can follow Jax’s lead. And both of these lend themselves very well to this sort of open-ended play.

Early Math Skills


When to introduce: 2 years old

Familiarize your child with numbers and their order by counting random things in your environment all the time. Count their fingers and toes, cereal boxes at the grocery store, plates as you set the table — the possibilities are endless. They will soon count with you and learn not only the names of the numbers, but their order as well.

Counting Caterpillar

Counting Caterpillar @ blog.jaxinthebox.com

When to introduce: 2 years old

Well, it’s actually a worm, but if you add some pipe cleaner legs, it will qualify as a caterpillar. I love this activity because, in addition to counting, it teaches colors, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. And Jax loves it. It even keeps him occupied while I’m taking a shower (even if it’s not until 2 PM).


  • Egg carton
  • Multi-colored pipe cleaners
  • Multi-colored construction paper
  • Googly eyes
  • Red marker (for the mouth)
  • Object with a pointed end to poke holes (such as a kitchen skewer)


  1. Cut your egg carton into one row (cutting off the second row). Turn your carton over so it is “hump” side up.
  2. Cut colored construction paper so it will fit on the tops of the humps.
  3. Glue the construction paper onto the egg carton — a different color for each hump. The shape of your construction paper will depend on your egg carton. I used hot glue, but school glue will work too depending on the material of your carton.
  4. Poke one hole in the top of the first hump, two holes in the second hump, etc. until you reach the last hump in your egg carton. I used a kitchen skewer, but use whatever object you have with a pointed end, ensuring the holes aren’t so big that the pipe cleaners slide right through them.
  5. Cut colored pipe cleaners into short, equal lengths, making sure to cut enough for the number of holes in the hump with the corresponding color.
  6. Add your googly eyes and decorate away. Having your child help you with this part would be a fun way of getting him excited about playing with it.

How to Play

Like all these activities there are several ways to play with your caterpillar.

  1. Have your child find the colored pipe cleaner that matches the paper color, and insert it into the corresponding holes.
  2. Count the pipe cleaners with your child as he inserts them into the humps.
  3. Ask your child how many pipe cleaners are in each hump after he completes filling all the holes: “How many are in the red hump?”

Extension activities:

  1. Roll a dice and insert that number of pipe cleaners in the caterpillar.
  2. Work on addition skills by asking your child to count how many pipe cleaners are in the red AND yellow humps.
  3. Use wooden or magnetic numbers (or number stickers stuck onto small card stock squares) and ask your child to find the number that corresponds to the quantity of pipe cleaners in each hump. For example, if there is one pipe cleaner in the red hump, your child would find the number “1”.

Counting Tray

Counting Tray @ blog.jaxinthebox.com

 DSCN2741When to introduce: 3 years old

I found this idea on one of my favorite blogs: The Imagination Tree, and just used items I had around my house.


  • Party tray (I find these at the Dollar Tree.)
  • Play dough (This is my favorite [recipe].)
  • Numbers (Wooden ones, small magnetic ones, or number stickers stuck to small squares of card stock will work beautifully.)
  • Dice
  • Objects to count (These can be anything you have around the house that are small enough to stick onto a ball of play dough: colored sticks, gems, poker chips, buttons, etc.)


  • Stick a generously sized ball of play dough into the center of your tray.
  • Place your numbers and dice into one compartment.
  • Add counting objects to the tray.

How to Play

  1. Roll the dice.
  2. Choose the number that corresponds to the number rolled on the dice. Stick the number into the play dough ball.
  3. Choose the same number of objects to stick into the ball.  Your child can choose all of the same objects, or a mix of different ones. It’s up to him! Encourage him to count out the objects as he adds them to the ball.

Extension Activities:

  1. Add a second dice to make the task more challenging.
  2. Split your play dough into two balls.  Have your child roll both dice and stick the quantity of each number rolled on the dice into the two balls respectively. Then ask your child to identify the ball with “more” and “less” objects than the other.
  3. Add a “+” sign to your numbers. Split the play dough into two balls. Have your child roll two dice, then find the numbers that correspond to each number rolled. Add the “+” sign in between them to set up an addition problem. Ask your child to stick the quantity of each number rolled on the dice into the two balls respectively, then count the total number of objects to solve the addition problem.
  4. Add a “-” sign to your numbers and challenge your child with subtraction equations in the same manner as above.

Encourage your kiddo to create his own ways of playing with these games too. While structured fun certainly helps him acquire skills he’ll need for school, open-ended play is even more important. It nurtures creativity, self-confidence and problem solving skills, just to name a few benefits! And, don’t be afraid to try your hand at these activities. You might not be able to help yourself.


3 thoughts on “Teaching Pre-Kindergarten Skills: No Flashcards Required | Part 2. Math

  1. Pingback: DIY Toddler Learning & Playing Cards | The Pinterested Parent

  2. Pingback: Teaching Pre-Kindergarten Skills: No Flashcards Required | Part 1. Reading | jaxinthebox.com

  3. Pingback: Teaching Pre-Kindergarten Skills: No Flashcards Required | Part 3. Handwriting | jaxinthebox.com

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