Entertaining kindergartners with caterpillars, dots, and monsters

Below is a guest post by my sister, Yulia Shpilman.

We had a particularly wonderful class with my Kindergarten Math Circle last week and I wanted to share a few of our activities, in case someone else wants to try them out.

For context, this is a group of four kindergartners who come for a weekly math circle on Tuesday evenings after school.  Last week, our class was extended to 1.5 hours to make up for a snow day, so I had to get creative to hold the attention of five-year-old students for that long.  The key in this case was variety – of activities, of materials, of topics and of places in the classroom where we worked and played.  

Here is a quick description and some photos of three of our favorite activities from the class.

  1. Bunchem caterpillars.  We used a fun and very tactile toy, Bunchems, to build caterpillars based on specific instructions such as “Build a caterpillar that has two more green balls than red balls” or “Build a caterpillar that has seven balls and there are more orange balls than yellow ones”.  The cool thing about this activity (besides the super fun Bunchems) is the variety of correct answers!03281717250328171736a03281717270328171731
  2. Dice and Tiny Polka Dot.  Each student got a special die – 20-sided for those with advanced arithmetic skills and 12-sided for beginners.  Across the room, on the window sill and floor, I spread out the cards from the fantastic Tiny Polka Dot.  Each student rolled his or her die and had to find two cards that together had that number of dots on them. On one hand, it’s basic arithmetic practice.  But on the other hand, it’s visual and involves a lot of movement, so kids don’t get nearly as tired from it as they do from doing arithmetic problems at their desks. This activity also has the advantage of letting everyone work at their own pace without feeling inadequate or behind the others.0328171742a0328171743a0328171740a0328171742b0328171742c
  3. Number monsters.  We used dice again for this activity. Each student got a die and a piece of paper with eight ovals (which in retrospect was too many – six would have been better).  I announced that the ovals are the bodies of the monsters and we were going to add heads, arms and legs to make them look silly and crazy! It worked like this – you roll a die and add as many heads as the die showed (we used stickers for heads).  Then you roll again and add that many arms.  And then you roll one last time and add legs (using a different color pencil than arms so it’s easier to tell them apart for the game afterwards).  

After we were all done drawing the monsters, we used them to play a game

  • “If you have a monster that has four arms, stand up!”
  • “If you have a monster that has more heads than arms, stand up!”
  • “If you have a monster that has more heads than arms and legs put together, stand up!”

These commands were surprisingly challenging (partly because not everyone followed directions and could tell their monsters’ legs from arms 😊) but they were silly and active and we had a blast.




About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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