Practice math with kitchen counting projects then eat the delicious results.
By Ellen Booth Church




Have you ever noticed that some children can say the words from 1 to 10 but have trouble counting out 10 things? This is not unusual. In the early stages of counting, children often can memorize the words from 1 to 10 but not really understand what they mean and how to use them.

Children need to experience counting in practical situations to understand how to use numbers. "Purposeful" counting (the understanding that the number 2 represents 2 things) happens when you ask your child to count out 6 liners for the muffin tin or 2 cookies for each family member.Counting objects helps your child understand how numbers are used in everyday life.

Shared experiences in your kitchen preparing snacks and meals provide your child with many opportunities to count out ingredients, make estimations, and create number patterns. These are essential math skills that your child will use throughout his life, so why not start now right in your kitchen?

1-10 Salad
Counting is something adults often do without thinking about it. For example, you might silently count out the number of ingredients you need for a recipe. But your child needs lots of practice with counting — it's how he develops a concept of number. For this salad, invite him to count out loud with you all the ingredients you'll need. For fun and learning, line up the salad ingredients along the kitchen counter to create a veggie number line!

What you need:

  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • 2 red or green peppers, sliced or chopped
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 7 cubes of cheese (your child's choice)
  • 8 pea pods, shelled
  • 9 croutons
  • 10 romaine lettuce leaves, torn
  • your family's favorite salad dressing

What to do:

  1. Invite your child to help you count out the salad ingredients from 1 to 10. If you have the space, ask him to line them up from left to right across your table or countertop. Introduce numerals by writing the numbers 1-10 on paper scraps. He can place the appropriate number with each item in the salad number line. 
  2. Prepare the vegetables together, starting with the first item in the line. Your child can carefully help you peel the cucumber and slice it with a plastic serrated knife. 
  3. Follow the line with all the vegetables and other ingredients, inviting him to help wash, slice, or tear whenever possible. 
  4. Extend the math learning by asking him to estimate how many peas he thinks are inside the pea pods. Count together to see how accurate his guess is. Shelling peas is also great for small muscle building. 
  5. Challenge him to tear the lettuce into a particular number of pieces. You might say, "Can you rip this one leaf into three pieces?" Add your favorite dressing and serve.

1-2-3 Sandwich
Sandwich-making provides your child with counting and sequencing practice because she has to count out the pieces of bread, cheese, and meat, then stack them in a sequential order. As you well know, numbers follow in an order and sequence. Any practice your child has with numeric sequencing helps her begin to understand the pattern of numbers. Use this simple turkey sandwich to practice counting and sequencing. 

What you need:

  • 1 slice of cheese
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 3 slices of turkey breast
  • mayonnaise or mustard

What to do:

  1. Ask your child to help you count out the ingredients for the sandwich. You might say, "Can you count out one slice of cheese, two slices of bread, and three slices of turkey?" 
  2. After she has collected the ingredients, you can say the pattern or sequence of the sandwich. Demonstrate how a sandwich pattern starts with one piece of bread, continues with the meat, cheese, or lettuce, and ends with the other piece of bread. You will be providing her with a visual model of the pattern to follow. 
  3. Ask her to try making her own sandwich following your sequential pattern. 
  4. You can even sing a song to reinforce the learning. Use the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell" to sing: "The meat on the bread, the meat on the bread, hi ho, the derry-o, the meat on the bread." Add a verse for each ingredient. 
  5. Don't forget the mustard or mayo!

Patterned Parfait
Provide more counting and sequencing practice by making a layered parfait for dessert. All you need is some vanilla yogurt, all-fruit jelly, and granola. Your child can count the layers as he creates a repeating striped pattern in pretty parfait glasses. Try to get at least two layers of each ingredient in each dish. This will show the repeating pattern. Invite your child to say the pattern ("yogurt, jelly, granola") as he makes it. You will be reinforcing his visual patterning skills with speaking skills. 

Set the Table
Don't forget to include your child in the process of setting the table. She will be using an important mathematic matching skill called one-to-one correspondence as she matches the correct number of utensils and plates to the number of family members eating. Placemats help her count and match the items. For a fun project, ask her to draw a picture for each family member. Slip each picture in a plastic sheet protector (found with stationery and office supplies) and tape the open end shut with transparent tape. You now have some very distinctive (and reusable) family placemats your child will be proud of. 

A Yummy Counting Game
Next time you are having snack together, try using small snack crackers or dried fruit pieces for a simple counting game.

  • Ask your child to put 4 pieces on his plate.
  • Invite him to eat 1 piece and ask him how many are on the plate now. Yes... 3!
  • Ask him what would happen if he put 2 more pieces on the plate. He can count and see how many he has now. Yes... 5!
  • Ask him to eat 3 pieces. Now how many are left?
  • Keep adding and subtracting (eating) pieces until the snack is finished. Not only will your child have fun counting, he also will be getting some important preliminary experience with adding and subtracting.

Read It and Eat
Share a food-related counting story and you will be showing your child the math in literature! Some favorites:

Easy Recipes
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Family Activities
Hobbies, Play, Recreation
Counting and Numbers
Early Math