20-minute Preschool Math Ideas

These simple, fun ideas can be done in about 20 minutes using household items parents probably already have on hand. Teachers, click the button below for a pdf of parent-friendly list of activities parents of preschoolers can use while learning in your classroom or from home.

Here's a fun activity using straws, playdough, and a pair of scissors! 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 the scissors are handy for cutting the straws to different lengths .  Try it out!

Toy Sorting

These children are sorting toys by color, using the rug as a sorting mat.

Water Paint Shapes

Go outside to make 2D shapes on the driveway or sidewalk. Using a cup of water and a paintbrush or rag, children can "paint" the shapes then watch the sun make them disappear.

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.

Digit Discovery

Materials: calculator, cards numbered 0-9

Instructions: Child turns over a card, says its name, and  punches the matching digit on the calculator. For an added challenge, push the + button between each number. What is the total? 45!

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lZR1ERaKGA


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.

© 2018 Carrie Cutler |  Materials Subject to Copyright 

Carrie Cutler

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