Sticks are one of my favorite math manipulatives to use with my early learners.
They are easy for little hands to hold, sort, and arrange into all kinds of interesting configurations; making them perfect for counting practice.
We have used them to help understand symmetry (same number of sticks on all sides) while building little houses and garages.
We have also bundled them together to “step count” by twos or tens. And unlike my other favorite easy to bundle manipulative, pretzel sticks, they aren’t as easy to eat 🙂
Stick Stack – A Counting Game
The game, “Stick Stack” lets kids build their very own nest using craft sticks. Real sticks would of course work too.
This simple counting game encourages
- recognizing numbers
- recognizing positive and negative numbers
- simple addition and subtraction
Getting Kids Excited About the Game
Getting my kids interested in building a bird’s nest isn’t hard. We have a pair of mocking birds and starlings building nests out our back window.
I’ve also been showing the kids pictures of bird nests and eggs that friends and family have posted on Instagram.
One of my favorite questions to ask kids is “How big did you think a bird’s nest can be?”
- Humming birds nests are tiny and can be less than one inch across.
- Bald eagles can makes nests up to nine feet wide and ten feet high!
***Try having kids take nine big steps to give them an idea of just how big that nest might be.
We’ve also been enjoying this wonderful non-fiction picture book, “Mama built a little nest,” by Jennifer Ward.
Between the covers are gorgeous illustrations with awe inspiring facts like:
- Hummingbirds use spiderwebs in their little cup shaped nests, so that the nest will stretch as the chicks grow.
- Male cactus wrens build several nests to attract a mate and the unused ones act as decoys for possible predators.
Mama built a little nest is one of my favorite all time favorite non-fiction books and one of the best to help get young kids interested in learning more about birds.
An easy way to get the kids started with the game is to have them find some sticks, either by gathering some from outside or finding some craft sticks that you have hidden around the house.
We have a baby in the house, which makes hiding anything questionable, so I simply placed a basket of craft sticks on the table and in the little hands came like moths to a flame.
Giving them time to explore the sticks and build nests or other structures can get them comfortable handling the manipulative and give them an important opportunity for free play and discovery.
Once you have some sticks and the kids have had a chance to become comfortable with them, you are ready to play the game.
Play the Game
Supplies we used
- pocket cube
- craft sticks (you can also use sticks from outside)
- stick stack cube numbers (Print this sheet and cut out the number squares).
- game board (a piece of cardboard or construction paper works fine)
***Our supplies were provided by Mother Goose Time.
How we played
- Print and cut out the “stick stack cube numbers” and place them in the pocket cube.
- Roll the pocket cube/dice.
- Add that many sticks to the nest.
- If you roll a negative number, remove that many sticks from the nest.
- If the first number rolled is a negative number, roll again.
In between plays, we alternated players hiding all the sticks to add entertainment value.
We used a basket to keep the sticks together, but I highly suggest a coffee can with a lid to avoid the numerous spills we had during the game.
You could also hide all the sticks and have them find the same number of sticks as the number rolled. With a baby on the loose it was easier for us to not hide them. It also seemed to help the preschoolers concentrate on counting when all the sicks were in one place.
My three year old was happy to count his sticks after finding the hidden basket.
My four year old was ecstatic to find a hole in one of the craft sticks.
She was certain it must be a cavity nest like those used by the woodpeckers and hornbills we read about in Mama built a little nest.
She was slightly less ecstatic about me having her hold the stick up for a picture….LOL
Did you and your kids enjoy this activity?
The ideas and materials we used for this game were provided by Mother Goose Time, an awesome preschool curriculum we enjoy using in our home.
Are your kids ready for more?
Here’s a great link for getting started with helping young learners explore negative numbers with Denise Gaskins.
Another favorite math resource for kids moving into kindergarten levels and beyond is Math Geek Mama.