I first introduced this fun one to one correspondence game last fall as part of my autumn themed preschool unit, but the kids and I recently pulled it out for some math fun so I thought I’d share it in more detail. The general rules of this game are very simple and the idea can be used with any theme. Apple Drop Counting is a great game that focuses on one to one correspondence skills in counting, but it can also be adapted to include concepts like more and less, composing and decomposing and even subitizing.
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Here’s what you need to do. Provide a themed “mat”. It can be an apple tree to go along with an autumn themed unit, or it can be a fish or a car, etc. Endless possibilities. Place this mat in a tray. (This is important because it will help contain the buttons as they fall.) Give your child a handful of buttons. (Red for apples, multi colored for fish scales, nude for people in a car, etc.) Invite your child to hold the handful of buttons a few inches above the mat and then drop them.
The buttons will scatter into the tray. Some will fall onto the tree itself, some will not. Now invite your child to count the number of buttons, or apples, that are on the tree. (We don’t want to count the apples that have fallen off the tree.) For an added challenge, ask your child to then point to or write the numeral of apples on the tree.
This apple drop counting game can be adapted to teach several math skills. The first is one to one correspondence. (For more information about one to one correspondence, see these activities and articles: Egg Carton Counting, Teaching Your Preschooler Addition and Subtraction, Dice and Beanbag Toss Game.) While William can do this activity completely independently, Corinne cannot, as she is just two and still learning one to one correspondence, meaning she is still learning that each number she says corresponds with only one object she is counting. I modified this activity for her by first giving her only five buttons, instead of ten. When she dropped each handful of buttons, I would ask if I could show her how to count. Then, I’d model it, pointing to each button as I said each number. Corinne then repeated what she saw me do and with a little practice she was able to repeat exactly what she saw me do, thus demonstrating a basic understanding of one to one correspondence.
Apple Drop Counting can also be a great lesson in number values, such as identifying more or less. After your child has dropped the buttons onto the tree and counted them, ask him to identify if there are more apples on the tree or off. If your child is unsure, have him line up the buttons in two rows (a row of buttons from the tree and a row of buttons not on the tree) and have him compare length.
If your child is in kindergarten or first grade Apple Drop Counting can easily be used as a tool for reinforcing the concepts of composing and decomposing certain numbers, like the number ten. To do this, have your child count the exact number of buttons to drop onto the tree. Let’s say ten. Then, after each drop, ask your child to count the number of apples on the tree and record it on a sheet of paper. Let’s say four. Then, have your child figure out how many apples must have fallen off the tree. Six. Together, all the apples on the tree and all the apples off the tree equal ten apples, the number with which your child began.
Finally, this game can be used to reinforce skills in subitizing, which is the ability to automatically recognize groups of objects as specific numbers, such as automatically recognizing dots on dice without having to count them. I think of it as fluency in number values. After your child has dropped the buttons onto the tree, give only three to five seconds for your child to look at the arrangement of buttons on the tree, then cover it up with a sheet of paper. Ask your child how many apples are on the tree. Count to check work. (Note: research supports introducing subitizing with familiar object arrangements, such as those on dice or in a ten frame. If your child is younger than first grade, he may struggle with the buttons falling into random arrangements.)
I hope I’ve given some ideas of how to tweak basic games to stretch into other math skills, and how to modify them for various abilities. I’d certainly be interested in hearing how you have used Apple Drop Counting as well!