Making Math Fun!

Happy Saturday!

I know this is going to sound cliche and all, but seriously....where did the summer go?!  August is only a couple of days away and most of my teacher friends are starting school either this coming week or the next.  Oh summer...we loved you so!!!!  Now it's upward and onward and we're getting ready to embark on a new journey with a whole new crop of babies.  Exciting and bittersweet all in the same breath!!!  

There are so many things to anticipate with the start of a new school year.  Organization...classroom management...centers....small group...and everything in between!  I love trying new things and making learning hands-on and engaging for my kids.  I think that's the key to creating lasting connections that kids can refer back to when trying to recall and apply new information.  

When our kids can get their hands "dirty" so to speak, they're more engaged in what they're learning.  I think that's pretty much common sense, but so often we get bogged down with SO many other responsibilities and obligations that the path of least resistance seems the easiest to take.  We really do try to overcomplicate our jobs,don't we?!!?  Implementing fun and engaging activities doesn't have to be hard.  We just need to take a new look at old things.  Think about how many ways we can keep the same activities available to students, but vary the objective and skill so that we aren't constantly having to recreate the wheel.  

Yesterday I made my first FB live video to share some fun and engaging...easy-to-implement...math activities that are perfect for the beginning of the year.  In case you haven't had a chance to watch, I need to warn you that A.) I talk WAY too much, B.) I use my hands to talk like nobody's business (that's the Italian in me, says my mom), and C.) I say the word "so" more than I ever thought possible.  Annoying, party of 1.  GAH!

The activities I shared are easy to differentiate based on the ability level of your kids and the concepts you're teaching.  While I present these ideas as being geared toward our K-1 babies, these ideas and activities could easily be adapted to fit any classroom!!!  

There were a few requests to blog about these activities in addition to the video, so I wanted to stop by today and do just that :)  Hopefully these ideas will inspire you to make math more hands-on and engaging in your classroom as well!!!  

Let's get started!!!

One of the most FUNdamental math skills we teach our kids...especially at the beginning of the learning how to subitize.  But what exactly is subitizing?!  Subitizing is instantly seeing how many.  It's getting to the cardinal number of a set without going through the ordinals to tell how many.  Subitizing is an important skill for our students to learn and practice because it helps to set the foundation for skills like composing and decomposing numbers and more complex number ideas and concepts.  It helps students with their counting skills and helps to build addition and subtraction skills as well as math fact automaticity.  To sum it up, subitizing is an important skills that needs to be practiced consistently and as often as possible.  

Here's a game that we play in our classroom called SUBI-SWAT!  

You'll need a set of dot arrangement post its, poster board or chart paper, and two fly swatters.  
Divide your class into two teams while making sure to pair up like-ability students on both teams so that no one has an unfair advantage.  The two players will approach the SWAT board with their fly swatters and the teacher will call out a prompt.  The students will swat the answer to the prompt using their fly swatters.  The first player to swat the answer earns a point for their team.  The team with the most points at the end of the game, wins!

Consider varying the type of prompts you give to your students to reach the ability level of all players.  For example, you could give really simple prompts to your "sweet & lows" :)  "Swat the dot arrangement that represents the number 2"; "Swat 4", "Swat 7", etc.
For your higher flyers, you could make the prompts a bit more challenging.  "Swat the dot arrangement that represents 4 less than 7"; "Swat the dot arrangement showing 6 more than 0"; etc.
Switching up the questions will help keep your students engaged while providing learning on their level!!!

Next up is a perfectly appropriate subitizing activity that gives kids the opportunity for independent practice in building this FUNdamental skillset.  

You'll need a chip and dip tray like the one pictured above (HELLO, DOLLAR TREE!!!!), transparent chips, a pair of dice, and garage sale sticky dots (isn't that their technical term?!?!?).  All in all, this activity cost me a total of $2 to create as everything was purchased from the Dollar Tree...minus the transparent chips & dice.  I already had those on hand.  Pom poms would work great as well!!!

Mark each section of the tray with different arrangement of sticky dots. If you're only working with numbers 1-5, then simply mark the sections with arrangements that represent those numbers and use only 1 die.  If you're working with numbers 1-10, mark the sections with arrangements representing those numbers and use two dice.  If you're working with numbers to 20, consider printing off pictures on labels that represent higher quantities.  

For the sake of explanation, we're focusing on numbers 1-10 in these pictures.  The players will roll two dice and then quickly try to identify the dot arrangement that matches the number they rolled.  For example, if the player rolls a 9, he will quickly scan the tray to find the dot arrangement that represents that numeral.  Once he locates that arrangement, he'll use the transparent chips to cover up each sticky dot in that section.  Play continues the exact same way until ALL of the sticky dots in each section are covered.  As you can see, this also helps students with their one-to-one correspondence.  

These trays are perfect to use with dry erase markers so that the skillset can be varied.
Think...expanded notation and base 10 blocks to represent the total amount;  coin amount with coins to show different ways to represent the total value;  addition, subtraction, etc., etc., etc. 

I always make sure to have a set of subitizing cards on hand.  I use these for quick practice during transition and whole group.  They make great for a great independent matching activity as well.  You can find this set of subitizing cards in my Making Math Fun Volume 1 resource.

Another fun game I like to implement into the classroom is bowling!  But not just any kind of bowling...bowling with a purpose!!!  And the purpose of this game is to strengthen our subitizing skills!

You can grab this bowling set (9 pins, 2 balls) at Wal Mart  or here on Amazon for less than $10.

If you're practicing simple recognition of various dot arrangements, you'll need a set of garage sale sticky dots using one color dot on each pin.  Mark the pins with different arrangements.  Prompt students to roll the ball and knock over the pins.  Once the pins are knocked over, players have to quickly identify the amount represented by the dot arrangement within three seconds.  If they are able to do so successfully, they earn one point for each pin correctly knocked down and identified.

Another way to vary this activity is to mark each pin with different color combinations as pictured below.

For this variation, students will roll, knock down the pin(s), and identify a number sentence/equation that represents the dot arrangement shown (giving them about 10ish seconds to do so).  SO...if a student knocks down a pin with three green dots and four blue dots, he would have to give you an equation like 3+4=7 or 4+3=7 to earn a point for that pin.  

Yet ANOTHER variation for this game would be using tens frames instead.  I simply used a dry erase marker to mark my pins for this activity.  They wipe off super easy which makes it perfect for changing out the skillset as often as I want!!!  

For this variation, mark each pin with a different amount in each tens frame (excluding the number 10, so use 0-9).  Players will roll, knock down a pin, and then quickly identify how many more are needed to make 10 altogether.  If they can quickly identify the difference (within 7-10 seconds), they earn a point for that pin.  ANOTHER way to score this would be to let them earn the missing amount, so if they knocked over a pin with 3 dots in their tens frame, they would have to quickly identify that 7 more are needed to make 10 altogether and they would earn 7 points for that pin.  That makes the stakes just a little bit higher :)  

Of course, you could also mark the pins with different numbers and reinforce numeral recognition...addition facts...subtraction facts....etc.  Dry erase is the key!

Here are some other hands-on activities I love using during both small group and independent math stations to help reinforce the concept of subitizing.  I think it's important to give our kids as many opportunities for hands-on reinforcement and practice in the skills we expect them to master.  


Here's a simple idea for adding fine motor practice into your math block while maintaining the integrity of the math skill you're teaching...

Race to Fill!  This is an easy game that can be varied by cup size and choice of manipulatives as well as the overall objective of the activity.

This activity can be played with 2-4 players.  For the sake of explanation, we're playing with two people here.  Both players will need a little cup, a die, a set of small counters (I'm using the little glass beads from the Dollar Tree), and a pair of plastic fine motor jumbo tweezers.
Player 1 will roll the die and then using his jumbo tweezers will add a matching set of counters to his cup (such GREAT fine motor practice and Lord knows ALL of our kids could benefit from that!!!!).  Player 2 will do the same and then play will repeat until one player fills his cup to the top.  The first player to fill the cup,wins!!!

You could also add a different element to this activity for your higher flyers.  This would be great for practicing addition!  Each time the player rolls and adds the counters to his cup, he will create a matching number sentence using a dry erase sleeve to record his work.  For example, if the player starts with no counters in his cup, rolls 4, and adds four, then his number sentence would read 0+4=4.  The next time he rolls, he rolls a 5.  His new number sentence would read 4+5=9.  The number sentence will always reflect the total amount of counters he has in his cup after each round.  

You could also vary the size of the cup.  These cups are the small(ish) party cups from the Dollar Tree.  As you can see, the bigger the cup gets, the bigger the counters get, too.  It would take them forever and a day to fill big cups with tiny counters.  WHile that would take them a good amount of time, the engagement piece would be lost and then behavior starts to become a problem!!  Keep it simple!

Here are a few other activities I keep on hand to keep my kids engaged in hands-on learning in one-to-one correspondence, fine motor, and comparing numbers and sets...


Last, but not least, here's a fun little idea that will help us bring a little bit of summer into our classrooms (because teachers can NEVER have too much summer in their lives!!!!)

All you need is a couple of pool noodles (2 different colors if possible),  a sharp knife (be careful!!!), a sharpie, one piece of construction paper, and some tape.   First start by cutting the pool noodle lengthwise right down the middle.  You'll cut a large slit from the top to bottom of one side.  Then just start slicing 1-2 inch pieces like you see above.  You'll get a TON of pieces out of your noodles!!!  Next, create a rod using a piece of construction paper and some tape.  Just roll and tape!  Voila!!  Next up, label each piece of noodle with various numbers.  You can practice almost ANY skill using these noodles!!!  Numerical sequencing, skip counting, odd and even, addition and subtraction...the list goes ON!!!!  I labeled the blue noodles with the +/-/= symbols to make it easier for the kids.  Since the pieces rotate easily around my makeshift little rod, practicing skills like numerical sequencing and skip counting are a breeze!  Just rotate each piece to find the next number in sequence!  You could also practice counting on or back from a given number.  Truly...the possibilities are endless!

And to reinforce the skills mentioned above, here are some of the activities I would use for those as well....  

YOU CAN FIND THESE ACTIVITIES HERE:'s so important to give our kids MULTIPLE opportunities for practice and reinforcement as many different ways as we can.  Just remember to keep the activities hands-on and engaging so students have an opportunity to explore relationships and develop meaningful and authentic connections!!!!  Hopefully this post and these ideas will give you a little inspiration for adding some fun into your math instruction as well!!  Have a great weekend!!!


  1. Great collection of ideas! Love the hands on fun!

    The Math Maniac

    1. I love hands-on fun, too!!! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great ideas! I really enjoyed watching your video and I loved the ideas so much I just went and bought your Making Math Fun Number Sense pack! Thank you!!

    1. So awesome, Michele!! Hope you and your kids enjoy the activities!! Thanks so much!! Blessings!

  3. Your video is great and I look forward to viewing more. Thanks for sharing so many ideas and all the best for your new school year. We are half way though our teaching year in Australia as we run by the calendar year.
    Mrs Stowe's Kinder Cottage

    1. Wishing you a great rest of the school year!!! Thanks for popping in! Blessings!