Building basic math skills in preschool: Sorting our math tokens

At the beginning of the school year, we started collecting math tokens and bringing them to school in our math bags each week. You can read more about our math bags by clicking here and more about how we share our math tokens here.

As you can imagine, we have gathered quite a collection of math tokens so far this year. So I thought I would share one of our activities we recently did with the math tokens.  This may look like a pile of junk but it is basic math skill building materials in the making…

Our kids bring all kinds of really strange things in their math bags each week and I must tell you – the kids can’t wait to share their math tokens on Thursdays!  Many of the children love to give me a sneak peak at what they brought before we get to math day…

After we share our math tokens, we count them together and compare or discuss other qualities of the math items but then they all end up stored away in a box. For the remainder of the year, we will begin to use the math tokens in a variety of ways.  On this day, the PreK only class worked together to categorize and sort the math tokens…

Each child was given a box to start with and then the children worked together to come up with different categories for the math items…

We ended up with all the round objects (pretty much all lids) in this box…

And in this box we ended up with all the food items [mental note to self: next year tell parents not to send food items]

And this box was all things magnetic…

And we also ended up with things that are soft; things that are long and straight; items from nature; toy items; rubber items; and “decoration” items (gems and tiles).

The kids kept tweaking the categories until we ended up with nine very distinct categories. The children were quite impressive as they worked together to sort and categorize most of these items almost completely on their own…

Once we had all the tokens categorized and sorted, we placed all the boxes in the center of the table for a little I Spy game…

Each of the children took a turn (and so did Miss Abby and I) spying something and then everyone searched the boxes to guess and find the item….

As I hope you can see, this was a wonderful process in math, cooperation, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and the learning just keeps going on…

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By |2012-01-07T07:00:22+00:00January 7th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Roz Karp January 7, 2012 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Great stuff! I used to do something like that. I had each child be a color, shape or description like soft, thick, hard. I had one child pick from a box like yours and give the correct child the object. Some days I did only colors, other days shapes, other days how things felt. A few days I did a hodge podge and believe it or not… they liked the hodge podge days best.
    I always had a kid “on deck” to save time. That child would have chosen something and been ready to give it away.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Hodge Podge day is awesome!!! I can see how that would be their favorite!

  2. Darlene Jones January 7, 2012 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Wonderful math activities! I looked back at previous entries about your math bags and came across that you use math folders with your young learners. Please elaborate more about the folders! What do they “look” like? What do you put into them and how do the children interact with them? Thank you for the great activities and information. I teach 4 year olds in a public school setting and I always look for methods that are hands on and that also document learning.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 10:59 am - Reply

      The math folders are simple pocket folders the children have decorated by stamping shapes on the outside and adding their name. Each week the children find a baggie of math tokens (I have selected) in their folder to sort and graph. I supply a simple laminated blank graph in the folder and the children sort their items on their graph to identify the number of items they have. This is a very quick activity that gives the children time to talk about the tokens, explore them more closely, and then use their critical thinking skills to organize, sort, categorize, and graph the tokens. To document learning (for older preschoolers): the graphs could be paper and you can have the children color in the graph and even print the names of the tokens on the graph to add a little writing to the process. My kids were not ready for this yet but we will continue to build on this and other ways to incorporate the math tokens. Let me know if you have ideas too! I would love to hear what they are!

      Graphing our tokens

  3. Amy M January 7, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Love the idea!! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cassey Shaw January 7, 2012 at 11:15 am - Reply

    I love this!!! You are very creative! Question for you though- how do you get your comment section to look like this? 😉

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 11:26 am - Reply

      Hmmmm, well that is a good question. I think it was built in by WordPress and perhaps the Thesis theme I use as well. I have been working on how to use the comment section more effectively too – so my learning curve is showing me that there are lots of possibilities – I just have to take the time to learn what they are. I am not sure if Blogger has the same comment features that WordPress provides. Perhaps they do but I am on a learning curve there too:) And look – I can add pictures too! Isn’t that exciting?

      Sorting math tokens

  5. Sheryl @Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds January 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Love, love, love this idea! Great stuff!

    Oh, and I wanted to ask the same question as Cassey about your comment section. I don’t like that my replies just look like another comment. I’m using Blogger, so I have some researching to do.

    Thank you, again, Deborah!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      You are welcome:) I hope you try the math bags Sheryl – my threes love them!

  6. Jennifer January 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    This reminded me of the drawer most people had or still have in their homes.. We called it the junk drawer. It was always amazing what you would find in there when you were going to look for the tape measure , a pencil or a rubber …you were always distracted by the other items you would find in there ah! there is my hair tie , oh there is that puzzle piece etc etc……… looks like they were so involved in your activity …:)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Haha – that is exactly what this is like. The junk drawer would have been an appropriate title for the box we keep our math tokens in!! LOL!

  7. Maggie January 8, 2012 at 1:03 am - Reply

    This is such a creative and great math activity! Thanks for sharing! It definitely has a lot of real-life applications for sorting the “junk drawers” @Jennifer mentioned and it’s a great way to show parents ways to use those extra materials at home with their kids too.

  8. Ali January 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    This is a great reminder that so much in daily life can enhance children’s learning. We are currently doing a big clean-out, this has definitely given me the idea to include my daughter more and let her do some sorting/counting etc. Thank you.

  9. Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum January 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    This is such a great idea – what sort of age would you start introducing this – J is fascinated by numbers, shapes and colours but isn’t yet 2 and a half and I worry that I may start doing activities with him that may mean he will be bored later at pre-school and school

  10. Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam January 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    What a great math activity! I love using every day objects to introduce math concepts to our daughter.

  11. JDaniel4s Mom January 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    JDaniel loves to gather items. This is a great way for us to learn and sort them.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 10, 2012 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      It works well for all children – at home, at school, and of all ages:)

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