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20-minute Preschool Math Ideas

Lose a Tooth Counting Game

Counting marshmallow teeth? Could math be any more fun? No way! All you need for this activity is a picture of a mouth with a bunch of teeth, mini marshmallows, and a die.


How it works: Kids cover each tooth with a marshmallow then take turns rolling the die and removing the number of teeth shown on the die. They can eat the marshmallows or set them aside. Whoever loses all their teeth first is the winner!


Where's the math? Kids count as they place the marshmallows on each tooth, practicing the counting sequence (order of the numbers) and one-to-one correspondence (saying one number for each item counted). They practice recognizing the pips on a die using a skill call subitizing. This means they can see the pips and "just know" how many are there without counting them. If you want, you can customize the die with digits that are "just right" for your child.


For example, in this video, I gave my 4-year-old Knox a die with a 0, 1, and 2 on it. This made the game take longer and gave him a lot of practice with 0--a tricky concept for a lot of kids.

Wind Up Toy Race

Have a race with wind-up toys. Use nonstandard units such as unifix cubes to measure the distance each toy goes with three twists of the mechanism. For an extension, you can explore ordinal numbers by declaring which wind up toy passes the finish line 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on.

Actual Size Measurement Activity

Cut pieces of ribbon, yarn, or paper to the lengths of some of the animals in the book and label them. In this video, Knox chose the tarantula and the tongue of the giant anteater. You want to include at least 5 different animals. Next have children put the strings in order from longest to shortest.


Cereal Shape Sorting

Materials: different shaped cereal

Squares: Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Circles: Cheerios, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks

Rectangles: Frosted Mini Wheat

Instructions: Children sort the cereal pieces by shape.

Swat a Number

For this activity, all you need are flyswatters, a die, and index cards with digits written on them. In this video, we use a die I made just for Knox from a foam cube we had around the house. It has the digits 0-5 on it because I want Knox to have many interactions with the concept of 0. What if you want to practice larger numbers? If your child needs help with the teen numbers--13, 14, and 15 are easily confused by kids--try this. Cover a regular die with masking tape and write the digits on it. Write the dots in rows and columns on the index cards since there's more space on the cards than on the tiny die. It doesn't matter as long as kids can match 'em up.


Block Towers

Materials: blocks, die

Instructions: Children roll a die and place that many blocks on their tower. They notice that some blocks are better suited to building than others (the pointy cone, for example). When the tower inevitably topples over, the children say, "Oh, well" in a sing-song voice and start over.

Shape Rubbings

Materials: flattish blocks (like tangrams)

Instructions: Children lay blocks on the table then lay a sheet of white paper over the top. They can use a crayon to create a rubbing of the shapes. Which ones can they name? What can they tell you about the number of sides a shape has? Which shapes fit together to make new shapes?


Birthday Candle Counting

Children match the digits with the correct number of candles in this fun, hands-on counting activity. All you need is playdough, cupcake cups, digit candles, and cake candles.


To play: Roll a ball of playdough and place in the bottom of each cupcake cup. Stick a digit candle in each cup. Children poke the correct number of cake candles to match the digit.


This activity helps children learn the counting sequence (the order the numbers go in) and one-to-one correspondence (saying one number word for each item counted).

Counting Drops

Materials: pipettes, small bowls of food coloring diluted slightly with water, ten clear-plastic cups halfway filled with water, ten color-counting cards made by drawing combinations of different colored dots on index cards. For example, draw combinations such as three blue dots and two red dots; two yellow dots and one blue dot; one blue dot, two red dots, etc.


Instructions: Have the child select a color-counting card. Have them use the eyedroppers to squirt the number of food coloring drops into each cup. Have the children count the drops as they go. Swirl to mix. Beautiful!

Watch a video of Knox and Mommy trying it here:


Missing Dot Triangles

What makes a triangle? Three sides and three corners (vertices). Missing Dot Triangles is a fun way to learn about what makes a triangle special. All you need are dot stickers (or you can draw them).


How to do it: Place two stickers anywhere on a card. Your child places the 3rd sticker. Help your child connect the dots creating a triangle.


Make a bunch of them and talk about how the triangles all look a little different but they all have what makes a triangle special--three sides and three corners (vertices).

Flower Pot Counting

Kids will love counting and matching the digits to their values!


All you need for this fun counting activity are some cheap pots and silk or plastic flowers.


To play: Label pots with digits (I used 0-5 in this video). Kids poke the correct number of flowers into the numbered pots. Don't forget zero!

Circles, Circles, Circles

Use circular faces (like this plunger) to make all sorts of circles. This one is messy but so fun! You can use drinking glasses, jars, or soup cans too.


Fishy Bubble Counting

Materials: simple fish cutouts numbered 1-10 (or higher if desired) and clear flat-sided glass marbles

How to do it: Have children put the fish cutouts in order in a horizontal line on the floor or table. Have children match the number of marbles to the number written on the fish, placing the marbles above the fish as if they were bubbles up coming out of the fish’s mouth. Older children may make a journal entry to record their work by drawing a picture showing a fish labeled with a number and with the correct number of bubbles coming out of its mouth.

Tablecloth Measuring

Materials: disposable table cloth, stickers

Instructions: Children use nonstandard units like craft sticks, cotton balls, beans, drinking straws, paper clips, unifix cubes, toothpicks, or bobby pins to measure from one set of stickers to another.

Tinfoil Boats

Children form boats out of heavy-duty tinfoil and place them in a water-filled pan or sensory table. They count and place counters in the boat until it goes down. Ah-oh! In this video, Knox used large glass marbles. He counted as he placed marbles one-by-one into the boat. When the boat suddenly sunk with 16 marbles, I made sure he understood that the capacity of the boat wasn't 16--it was 15. I was surprised he knew right off that 15 came before 16. Pretty good for a 5 year old! Try this with your children. They will love it!ored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

Wiki Stix Shapes

Looking for ways to get a math conversation started? Wiki Stix Shapes is the perfect launching pad! All you need is a sheet of paper with a large shape outline drawn on it and some wiki stix. Have your child use the wiki stix to cover the shape outline as they describe things they notice about the shape. Reinforce language such as sides, corners, vertices, long, short, equal, and straight.

Straw Triangles

Build triangles using the straws as the sides and playdough to make vertices (corners). We want lots of different types of triangles (equilateral, acute, and obtuse), so provide scissors for cutting the straws to different lengths .  Complete instructions are given in the YouTube video description.

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