Kindergarten Math Games

Quick Ideas: From marbles to holiday lights, fun ways for kids to practice estimation skills.

Q&A
Q: I've been teaching estimation to my kindergarten class, and I have a few students who always make wild guesses (like "Five!" for a jar full of marbles). How can I help them develop number sense?

A: Bob Krech, math curriculum specialist, shares: "Students should understand that an estimate is a ‘thinking guess.' Model some wild guesses yourself and have students respond letting you know if they think your guesses are wild and why they think so. For example, you might say, ‘I'm going to estimate how many children are in this class. I think there are 100.' If students respond that that is not accurate, ask if you are too high or too low, and how they know. Then keep lowering your estimate till you get into the realm of the reasonable."

Light It Up
Practice estimating: Quantity
What to do: Remove the bulbs from a string of holiday lights (any size will do, but all bulbs should be the same size). Place the bulbs in a clear, wide-mouth plastic jar and display it in a prominent area of your classroom. Ask children to estimate the number of bulbs in the jar and record their estimates. Then count the bulbs, removing one from the jar at a time as you go. (For safety, you should handle the bulbs instead of having children do so.) Write the actual number of bulbs on the board, and have children compare and discuss their estimates and the true count. If desired, put each bulb into a socket on the light cord as it is counted, then plug in the lights for children to enjoy as they discuss.

Wrap It Up

Practice estimating: Length
What to do: Show children a length of holiday ribbon and a gift-wrap bow. Have a supply of additional bows in the same size on hand (you might ask families to donate their extra wrapping supplies). Ask children to estimate how many bows long they think the ribbon is. Tell them to make their guess by imagining the bows being placed end-to-end along the length of the ribbon. Use a permanent marker to write their names and estimates on a sheet of foil wrapping paper. Then help children use the bows to measure the ribbon. How close were their estimates? Repeat the activity using different lengths of ribbon and different bow sizes.

Turkey Steps
Practice estimating: Distance
What to do Set up a simple "path" by placing several laminated, die-cut turkeys in visible, easy-to-reach areas around the room-such as on the floor, walls, and bookshelves. (Label the turkeys with a shape, number, or letter for identification purposes.) Then, working with small groups, have children start at the first turkey and walk heel-to-toe to the next turkey, counting each step as they go. (Children should go one at a time since their step counts may vary according to their foot size.) Using this step count as reference, have them estimate the distance-in footsteps-to the next turkey and then walk the distance to check their guess. Repeat until children have estimated and counted the actual steps between each turkey. For a holiday or winter theme, you might use die-cut gifts or snowmen instead of turkeys.

Leaves on the Ground
Practice estimating: Area
What to do: Attach leaf-shaped sticky notes or die cuts along the bottom of a bulletin board. Use leaves that are identical in size and shape and that fit together snugly-without overlapping-to cover the area as thoroughly as possible. (For a winter scene, use snowflake shapes to create a snow-covered ground.) Display a laminated tree with a wide trunk and bare branches above the leaves to create a fall scene. Show children a leaf from the display and ask them to estimate the number of leaves on the ground. Have them use a wipe-off marker to record their name and estimate on the tree. Then count the leaves in the display, removing each one as you go. Write the final count on the tree and compare the children's estimates to it.

It's in the Bag!
Practice estimating: Weight
What to do: Ask parents to donate their gently used holiday gift bags. Then gather a variety of items that fit inside the bags, such as festive decorations, small toys, books, and school supplies. Pair bags that are decorated alike, put an item in each one, fold down the tops, and place them in your math center. (Check that the two items have a noticeable difference in weight.) Invite children to choose a pair of bags, pick up each bag to feel its weight, and guess which is heavier (or lighter). Then have them use a balance to check their guess. To extend, provide wooden cubes to serve as weight units. Ask children to estimate how many cubes have the same weight as each bag and then use the blocks and balance to check their estimates. They can also compare the actual weights of the bags in the pair, then try placing their own items in the bags to challenge a classmate.

The Filling Station
Practice estimating: Volume
What to do: Stock a center with a tub of dried corn kernels, plastic funnels and scoops, sticky notes, paper or plastic cups in various sizes (you might use cups decorated with a Thanksgiving or harvest theme), and an assortment of clear, empty plastic containers-such as recycled milk jugs, soda bottles, and jars. To use, invite children to choose one of the containers and a cup that's smaller than the container. Ask them to estimate how many cups of corn will fill the container, write their guess on a sticky note, and attach it to the container. Then have them fill the container with corn, one cupful at a time, counting as they go. How close was their estimate? Invite children to repeat the activity, using different containers and cup sizes each time.

What's the Time?
Practice estimating: Time
What to do: When you're ready to transition to the next activity, ask children to estimate how many minutes they think it will take to clean up their center. Record their estimates. Then, on a signal, have children get to work as you time them with a stopwatch. (Remind them that this is not a race.) Once the center is clean, write the actual time it took on the board. Compare the results with children's estimates and discuss. To further reinforce children's awareness of time, have them estimate how long it takes to do routine activities such as lining up for lunch, preparing to go outdoors for recess, and gathering belongings at the end of the day. 

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