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Entertaining Preschoolers with Macaroni Math

written by: Tania Cowling • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 4/28/2016

Use a variety of dry pasta shapes to create macaroni math manipulatives to help your students improve and practice a variety of math skills. Here are a few ideas to place into your curriculum – the pastabilities are endless!

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    Tri-Color Pasta

    Obtaining a box of tri-color pasta gives you the ability to teach colors, sorting and measuring with preschool children. Begin with measuring cups, a bowl, spoon and three colors of pasta.

    Measure the ingredients with your students, such as 1/2 cup red pasta, 1/3 cup green pasta, and 1/4 cup yellow pasta. Invite the children to put pasta in bowls and mix with spoons. Let them take out the pieces and sort them by color. Provide three containers with a color swatch and have the children put the correct colors into each vessel. Which container has more?

    If you do not have colored pasta, you can dye it. In a zippered plastic bag, mix one teaspoon rubbing alcohol with a few drops of food coloring. Add dry pasta (whichever shape you choose). Zip the bag closed and invite children to shake the bag to make colorful pasta pieces. Spread the wet pasta on paper towels to dry.

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    Pasta Patterns

    Pasta Patterns 

    Preschoolers love to recreate patterns using different shapes of pasta. Create a guide strip with the pasta glued on or the shapes drawn with a marker. Give the child another cardboard strip and encourage them to copy the pattern. Provide each student with a plastic baggie full of the pasta shapes needed for this drill. Think shapes like rigatoni, bowties, wagon wheels, shells and elbow macaroni. Children develop matching skills with this activity.

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    Pasta Necklace

    This activity not only challenges a child’s cognitive skills, but it also sparks some creative thinking and serves as an art project.

    You will need a variety of tubular pasta (ziti, rigatoni, penne, etc.), colored markers and yarn. Cut lengths of yarn that will fit over the children’s heads after tying. Invite kids to create unique patterns for their necklaces, varying the shapes. Instruct them to string the shapes onto the necklace. When finished and tied (with an adult’s help), the children can color the pasta with markers using solid color, stripes, and polka dots.

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    Pasta Plates

    Pasta Plates 

    Use some disposable paper plates to make some unconventional flash cards with dry pasta, glue and markers. These flashcards can spotlight any operations (addition, subtraction, greater than, and less than) using pieces of pasta to represent the numbers. Start with writing 2 + 4 = ___, then glue two pasta shapes plus four shapes on the paper plate. The preschoolers can count the shapes for the answer to the equation. For < or >, use the same concept to make the pasta plates. The children can count each side of the symbol to see which side of the plate has more or less macaroni.

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    Some preschool children have learned the game of tic-tac-toe. Using this game, vary the playing pieces using bow ties and wagon wheel pasta. Make a playing board on poster board and laminate it for durability. Keep the board and playing pieces in zippered plastic bags. You will need five bow tie and five wagon wheel pasta shapes per game. The preschoolers can decorate their playing board as they wish. This is a nice project to make at school and send home for a game to play with family members. Who will be the first to get three in a row?