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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Math Baskets

Here are some ideas for math activities I have created to mix learning into children's play. These ARE an activities and technically not play, but I have seen that it frequently shifts into play as the children take over the game.

Math play baskets/boxes


To provide play opportunities that encourage counting and exposure to math principles.


A series of baskets or boxes


Loose parts

Mat/square of fabric

Equipment to take photos and print out images, (laminate) and attach to baskets.

Metal ring to connect images together

To Play

Basket of five.

A small basket or box

Five blocks. All the same size, All the same colour. A square of fabric to work on. A defined space.

Label attached to basket/box with the number five and a photo of the five blocks positioned like a domino 5.

The children are encouraged to think of how many different ways they can construct with the blocks… 2D and 3D. Take photos and add them to a little metal ring so that the children can see previous designs. Can they copy a design? This way the children are creating their own math and design book.


Change the shapes of the blocks. Either change to five new shapes or mix of shapes.

Change colours of the blocks to two colours, three colours, four colours and five different colours.

This will increase the number of designs… as the same shapes can be arranged in different colour orders.

Having a variety of colours and/or shapes will bring pattern making into the game (red blue red blue red) which is important in maths

To extend the math and design book further into literacy, stories/descriptions of their creation can be written down and added. If using a tablet this can be done in an app directly and printed out like a book (the photo, and the text). or the book can remain a digital tool for children to look through, rather than printing out. This means, on some book creating apps, children can record their voices to tell the story of their patterns, and children can listen to each other, making them less dependant on an adult to read for them.

Basket of Ten

A small basket/box with ten blocks. To be used in the exact same way as above, including the extension. Labelled with the number ten and word ten, and a photo of the blocks in two sets of five as above.


There can be several baskets of five and ten available. Each clearly with its own contents shown on the label. This makes tidying up the baskets at the end of the play session also a math activity, sorting and counting. Children can work separately or together, combining their baskets to create bigger constructions or patterns.

Encourage children to take a basket of five and a basket of ten. Work out together how many blocks do they have, and then let them create. This way children are learning to count up to fifteen, if this is deemed appropriate and/or necessary. The tidying up is a part of the counting process.

Simple addition and subtraction, as well as division and multiplication will occur naturally in the play.

Further variations

Instead of blocks other loose parts can be used. Buttons, sticks, animal figures. Outside boxes and baskets can be designed where BIG blocks and loose parts are used so that children need to collaborate to design and construct, they can even create small obstacle courses with the box of five or box of ten if you have planks for example to balance on (2 planks and 3 big blocks to make a long bridge).

Baskets of five and ten for water play, or sand play. Many things can be sorted into math boxes, so that when the children are tidying up the spades they are putting 5 yellow ones in one box, and 5 red buckets in another. Or 2 yellow spades, 2 red rakes, 4 green buckets and 2 blue plates in a box… it can mean that when children want to play they can choose a play box that you have put together that they are responsible for and when they have finished playing they tidy up the box and return it to the shelf. Children can mix and match in the sandbox, but the tidying up is back into the boxes/baskets that are clearly marked on the outside so that the children know. This way children are learning about responsibility, you are guaranteeing that they are learning to count while at the same time maximising the amount of time children are able to freely play.

It can be an idea to do small numbers in the beginning so that the children do not get overwhelmed at taking responsibility and tidying up. And also limit how many baskets you use, so that the adults are not overwhelmed by scaffolding the children's use of these boxes/baskets.

Alternatively there can be a loose part math self and the children use small shopping bags made of cloth with numbers on, 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 etc and several of each. The children can come “shopping” at the loose part shelf and choose the number of things that they feel capable of taking responsibility of. At the end of their play they count the things back into their bag and return them to the loose-part shelf (either a shop or library like loaning).

Instead it could be done that there are enough cloth bags for each child, and a small paper is stamped/written with the number of things that they choose to borrow from the loose part shelf. There can be a helper at the start of the play session who writes or stamps the number after they count the things into the bag and checks them out by receiving the paper and counting the contents of the things back onto the shelf.

Maths Hide and Seek


Through play to encourage the children to learn counting and to experience math principles such as addition and subtraction.


1-3 baskets

5-15 small soft toys, easy to hold in a child's hand, with tails preferably (to pull down from heights). Ideally something that makes sense in your local context, or connects to a project the children are engaged in. Five items per basket.

Game description

  • Before the children arrive, hide the soft toys around the classroom (or the outdoors on dry days if they are soft toys - on wet days small bath toys could be used outdoors).

  • Choose easy places at first, and get harder the more the children get used to the game.

  • Position them high and low, sometimes so just a tail is in reach to encourage stretching to reach, or so that they need to get a chair to retrieve it or ask for help, (as asking for help is also an important life skill).

  • There are five soft toys per basket. If hiding 5 then only one basket is in use, if 10 are hidden then two baskets are used. This increases the opportunity for counting and also for addition and subtraction…

  • For example… there are two in one basket and three in the other basket, how many do we have all together? 5, so how many are left? Five. Then the children also have to see which basket there is still space to put the toy in, as one basket might fill first.

  • It is not important that one basket it completely filled before the other, but it is also OK if children use this strategy as part of making it easier to work out how many are left to find.

  • While the children are looking for the toys don’t forget to help them build mathematical terms such as behind, in front of, under, in between, on top. This means when you are hiding the items you are also planning to use these terms.


  • An extension might be that the children can place them in any basket they wish, and at the end they check to see if there are too many in one of the baskets, and too few in another basket (more mathematical terms to be used) and they can then adjust them using maths to ensure they are five in each basket. Five is used, as it connects to fingers, encourage children to use their fingers to help them work out how many are left to find, or are more than or less then.

  • It can be extended with a fourth basket, bringing it up to 20, and beyond if the children are ready for further challenges.

  • Baskets can be increased to contain 10 items each.

  • The toys in these baskets are teacher tools, and NOT for free play. The children can be encouraged to design their own baskets and things to hide if they want to do this on their own. So having extra bags and baskets and small items that can be used in multiple ways can be a good idea for the children to take the activity idea into their own play. it also means that there is no/little risk that the activity items get lost.

  • These extra baskets/bags/boxes of 5 and/or 10 items can be provided and used by the children for free play. The children could use them for hide and seek games themselves, or other counting games.

  • An outdoor set could be rubber ducks in baskets. These ducks can be used in the children’s own free play version of this game, as well as for other play, a circle of ducks, a square of ducks, a line of ducks, telling duck stories/small world play.

  • If they are different colours they can be made into patterns, ie a basket of yellow ducks, a basket of blue ducks etc. Or by size.

  • Other animals can be used instead of ducks that will withstand wet weather if used outside.

  • By having resources in boxes/baskets of ten it can also encourage children to think mathematically while tidying up. Although I would not encourage all resources to be arranged in this way, just some of them.

in this outdoor session 10 oranges were hidden in the forest for the children to find. This was connected to a storybook by Elsa Beskow called the Sun Egg about an orange that was accidentally dropped in the forest and was mistaken for the sun's egg.

Two baskets were provided as a way to collect the found oranges and aid mathematical thinking - counting, addition, subtraction (to work out how many were left to find). Afterwards the children were free to play the game themselves and develop it. We did though suggest just 5 oranges as remembering where they hid them was not always easy.

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