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Finding and Using Math Counters in Preschool

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Jonathan Wylie • updated: 9/11/2012

Math counters for preschool classes are easy to find and even easier to use in your preschool classroom. They are an extremely versatile and rather inexpensive manipulative that can be used in many different ways.

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    What Types of Counters to Use

    Before you begin your search for math counters for preschool, you first need to decide what type you want to purchase. Counters come in many different animal shapes, as well as basic shapes such as circles and squares. Younger children often like the animal counters, but sometimes then math time easily becomes play time. One plus with the animal counters is that they can come in different sizes, leaving you more options for sorting and making patterns. You may find a bucket of bear counters and they may come in three colors, and two different sizes.

    One thing I believe is important is to find something that comes in a variety of colors. Some counters only come in two colors, and that limits your options for using them in activities.

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    Where to Find Math Counters

    math counters If you are looking for a simple set of circle, multi-colored counters, this set from Amazon is perfect. If animal counting sets are more to your liking, there are many to choose from retailers like Amazon. Evaluate the needs of your class and what activities you may want to use them for before deciding what to buy.

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    Counting and Color Activities

    No matter the type of counter you choose, they are great for basic instruction and practice with counting and learning colors.

    1. A simple counting activity with math counters is to just ask the students to count a certain number of counters and place them in front of them. You can count as a class to check. Many preschool students can do rote counting, but have difficulty with the one-to-one correspondence of counting items.
    2. You can also give student a simple worksheet to work with to practice counting. This downloadable worksheet has house shapes with numbers on them. The students simply put the correct number of counters on each house. You can also use this blank star sheet to add your own numbers.
    3. To practice colors, you can ask students to count out a specific number of a certain color. They can also sort their counters by color. Another option is to use the blank star sheet from above and color the start different colors or write color words on each star. Have students use them to put the matching colors on the stars. This can also help them to start to recognize/read color words.
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    Making Patterns

    Making patterns with math counters is a great way to introduce the concept of patterns. Start with doing simple ABAB patterns as a group. Begin by having students color the squares to make a pattern. Once they are comfortable with the concept, have them make their own using the math counters. This worksheet provides the opportunity to make short or long patterns and would be useful if you move on to more difficult patterns, such as AABAAB or AABBAABB.

    If you have animal counters that include different sizes, encourage students to include those in their patterns. Some may pick up on it without your guidance or any hints. Using these math counters for preschool gives more advanced thinkers the chance to think outside of the box and expand their knowledge of patterns.

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    Introduction to Addition and Subtraction

    To help introduce your preschoolers to addition and subtraction, you can read simple problems and work them out using the math counters. Start with very simple problems, and work up as you see them mastering the concept. This is all about introducing the concept of addition and subtraction, not mastering facts.

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    Some sample problems include:

    • David has 2 cars. His mom buys him 2 more. How many cars does David have now?
    • Kimmy has 1 cookie for dessert. Her grandma gives her 1 more. How many cookies does Kimmy have now?
    • There are three cars in the driveway. One more pulls up to park. How many cars are now in the driveway?
    • There are 5 pieces of pizza. Marcus eats 2 pieces of pizza. How many pieces of pizza are left?
    • Hank is playing with 2 trucks. He gives 1 to his friend to play with. How many cars does Hank have now?
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    Bingo Counters

    One of the simplest uses of counters is to use them as counters for bingo. You can do a number recognition game or letter recognition. The attached letter recognition game cards use upper case letters. This downloadable file includes the letter and number recognition games, as well as a blank bingo card to customize to meet your needs.

    Purchasing math counters for preschool classrooms is an inexpensive and versatile way to introduce and reinforce many preschool skills. Using manipulatives in the classroom is a great way to reach a wide range of learners, and the math counters fits this need perfectly. Some teachers even use counters as enrichment activities for more able children, so you can see that they truly are a versatile resource for preschool teachers.