Monday, October 15, 2012

Magic Number Cups: Six Math Games With Paper Cups

I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I love math manipulatives.  Our homeschool closet is piled high with a gazillion things (plastic bears, blocks, coins, beads, pom-poms, you name it) that can be counted, sorted, and used for learning mathematical concepts.  It seems, however, that my kids are just as enthralled when I take out the homemade manipulatives as the store-bought ones, and that they can be as simple as a bunch of paper cups labeled with numbers.  Now of course I didn't introduce these as "look at what your Mom made for you in less than a minute out of cheap stuff that was lying around the house", but rather as Magic Number Cups.  I quickly came up with a variety of activities to do with them...

1. Put the numbers in order

I've been working a lot with L or putting the numbers 1-5 in order (forwards and backwards), so this task provided good reinforcement.  Depending on your child's level, you could start with a random number and ask them to find the numbers that go before and after it, or arrange them by skip counting (by 2s, 5s, etc..).  It might be fun to play 'complete' the pattern with older kids and arrange them in all sorts of interesting sequences.

2. Magic Wand Number Tap

When I asked the girls to tap the correct cup with a (magic) spoon as I called out the number, they were very excited (who would have thought!).  This is a great exercise in number recognition.  It would have been fun to place a coin on top of the correct cup as well.

3. Number Swiper

I didn't get a picture of this one, but we arranged a subset of number cups in order and then I asked the girls to close their eyes while Swiper the Fox (character from Dora the Explorer, played by Mommy) removed one of the cups.  They had to figure out which one was missing.

4. Hidden Treasure

Nothing gets Preschoolers more excited than a little bribery positive reinforcement.  By far, the favorite game of the evening was when I picked a group of 5 cups for each girl and then asked them to run across the living room.  As they were running, I hid one food morsel (goldfish cracker or chocolate chip) under one of each girl's cups.  Then I gave each one a clue for picking the right cup.  For working on number recognition (we're working on identifying the teens), I could just say the name of the number and the girl would find it.  For expanding mathematical thinking, I would give them simple problems like:

-What number comes right before/after seven?
-What is the smallest/largest number (from the available set)?
-If you have four cookies and you give two to your sister, how many will you have?

This is where (in my opinion) math starts getting fun because you get into problem solving, not just memorization.

The girls asked for this game over and over - I think the element of surprise (we tapped the cup with the correct answer with our magic spoons in order for the prize to appear) was just as much fun as the food reward (when I switched from chocolate chips to goldfish crackers that they had been snacking on all day, they still wanted to keep playing).  In the future I might use mini-erasers, pom-poms, and other surprises as well.  It's a nice twist on solving number problems.

5. Role Reversal

Let your kids make up some problems for you to solve.  This proved really tricky for my 3-year-olds who absolutely loved hiding a treat under one of the cups for Mommy, but had a really hard time saying the number on the cup without pointing at it.  Older kids can probably come up with some good word problems.. we'll have to continue playing this to see if my kids start getting more creative.

6. Free Play

E really enjoys stacking paper cups (she's built some impressive structures in the past), so she was elated when I let her build with the number cups.  Let your kids freely explore these manipulatives to see what kind of patterns they discover.

A side note: There are probably a dozen more things to do with these cups if you combine them with other manipulatives, but I intentionally tried to avoid counting exercises (i.e. put the correct number of objects in the cup) because we've been doing a lot of that lately, and I want the kids to be able to work with just the numeric representations of those quantities..

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed early math "games" that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

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  1. so much fun & learning with just cups!! I love it! Thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you! Isn't it always that just the simplest things can be so much fun for the kids? I love the ideas on your blog as well, and started following you on Facebook.

  2. This is brilliant!! I love it. I will have to do this activity with my boys this week, Visiting from TGIF.

  3. Love all these creative ideas!! Thanks for linking up to TGIF!

    Beth =-)

  4. Really great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

    Tina - American mom raising 4 kids in South Africa and author of 5 blogs

  5. Sharing your post on the A+ Interactive Math - homeschool blog next week (the title and a link straight here for people to read the details) Great job!

  6. I like most of this cool math games because goes from concrete things to teach more abstract math concepts. I liked also some online games like this to teach problem solving skills. Great Post!

  7. You write very well, am amazed with your blogging, you will definitely achieve success..!! Keep it up
    * cool math games

  8. Excellent use of to see people training their brains in the maths.


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