Exploring the estimation station in pre-k

I took some of our math tokens that we collected from our math bags and added a few other items then placed them into baby food jars for our estimation station. I will continue to add more jars but today, we started with a nice selection of about 12 different jars of tokens to estimate…

The jars are sitting on a cupcake holder that I won last year from The Cupcake Blog. Since I rarely do any baking, the cupcake holder has been sitting in a box since I got it.  I finally decided that the cupcake holder would make a fun stand for our estimation station and will probably use it for other ideas too later on. Sometimes, finding a new way to display or present materials to the children makes the process more inviting to the children.   As soon as the children walked in and saw our estimation station, they began asking all about it…

We talked about the process first. I explained to the children that they were to pick a jar and make a guess of how many tokens were in the jar….

The challenge in introducing estimation to preschoolers is that often times the children do not want to take a guess for fear of guessing wrong. I have found that I often make it worse when I make a big deal about how close their guess was to the right answer.  So I am learning to respond by listening to their response and conclusions throughout the process rather than making any comments of my own…

After looking over the jar and making a guess of how many tokens are in the jar, the children then open the jar and spread the tokens out on their counting board…

We talked about how organizing their tokens help with counting the total number of tokens…

Some of my students naturally organize their tokens for counting and others still do not seem to get this concept at all. They just start counting – I don’t worry about it either way right now since this is such a new process for us. Over time and with practice, my students will figure out what works well for them and how to organize the materials where they can keep track of them…

After estimating and counting their tokens, the children placed the tokens back in their jar and then picked a new jar to start the process all over again.  Some of the jars only held a small number of tokens and some of the jars held a large number of tokens. Sometimes, the children would discover that there were far more tokens in the jar than they anticipated. They would often decide that there were just too many to count.  Realizing that there were more tokens in the jar than they originally anticipated was an important part of the estimating experience whether they ended up counting all the tokens or not….

I will continue to add new jars of tokens to our estimation station and we will continue to explore our math tokens in other ways as well. I look forward to seeing what else we come up with!

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By |2012-02-05T06:00:18+00:00February 5th, 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. Dawn Travers February 5, 2012 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Love this idea will show it to our Foundation teachers as this is relevant for so many early years age children. Thanks for sharing.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing Dawn!

  2. stephanie a. February 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    that is so weird…I was just talking to one of my co-workers about doing this very activity! she also has a collection of baby food jars with various numbers of objects. i love it, and there are so many ways to adapt it to enhance the literacy and math learning. thanks for sharing, now we HAVE to do it!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      I have that happen to me all the time too! I will think of an idea and find that someone else has just written about it or tried it in their classroom. Too funny!

  3. jeanne February 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Love love love this concept, the jars, and the defined working space to lay out the items for counting. I will share and pin!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the pin Jeanne:)

  4. Cristina February 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    What an interesting idea!! This is the first time I hear of it but I’m sure pinning it for when the time comes to teach my daughter.
    I have also found very useful what you found out about making it worse when you made a big deal about how close their guess was to the right answer. These things are what make a difference in teachers. Your children are very lucky to have someone who is by their side, observing how they learn, always lending a hand when necessary, but letting them take control of their own learning.
    This is my first comment, but I read you since long time ago. Thanks for sharing.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your very kind comment Cristina – what a pleasure to have you join me here!

  5. Jan February 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I send an Estimation Bag home each day with a new student who fills a jar, records the total, and then brings it back the next morning. We sing our Estimation Song, record our guesses and then count them out together.

    This would be fun too!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      I love the idea of an estimation bag!

    • Jennifer S February 6, 2012 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Jan- Could you share your Estimation Song with us? I’d like to start this project in my classroom and songs are always fun.
      Thank you,

  6. Kimira February 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah

    Nice one, but how do your children handle glass jars? I have a number of glass jars but I am afraid to use them in play because of possibilities of breaking glass. Would be glad of any advice you may have

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Kimira,
      You will notice that our kids use these at the table in a small group setting – they are not left out in open center time. We have been using glass jars for quite some time now and my kids do a super good job of using them responsibility. I think babyfood jars are made a little thicker too – I dropped one in my garage and it didn’t break or chip but like anything along these lines, you have to make a decision based up what you feel is best for your group of kids.

  7. Kathryn May 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    I love this idea! I like finding new things to add to my classroom. I am curious, how did you introduce estimating to your preschoolers?

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