Imagine what happens when you ask children to join in singing a simple song such as "Five Little Monkeys" or "Ten in a Bed." In the process of singing, you are asking children to use basic math skills. They will use matching and comparing (with pitch, rhythm, and volume), patterning and sequencing (with repeating melodies and rhythmic patterns), as well as counting up and down the number line. A song has patterns just like math! So try these song activities that incorporate music and math into group time.

Sing a Number Line

Number line activities are a great way to help children make the transition from rote counting (reciting numbers from memory) to rational counting (counting actual objects using one-to-one correspondence). In the group-time activity that follows, children hunt to find the correct number of classroom objects and put them on a number line:

Divide a long strip of mural paper into 10 equal boxes. Number the squares from one to 10 to create a number line.

Send children on a hunt to collect small items from the classroom, such as blocks, crayons, buttons, books, and so on.

Invite them to sort the objects into piles to see how many they found of each object.

Have children choose materials to place in the number line. "How many objects should we put in square number one? How many in square two?" It's likely that children will have to look for more objects to fill the number squares. This will encourage them to use more one-to-one correspondence skills.

Ask children to sing the number line. The words might be: "One block, two crayons, three little marbles..."

Add a Fish!

Introduce children to simple addition and subtraction activities with this version of "I Caught a Fish Alive." Most children are familiar with the tune and words, but you can also hum the tune for children to spark their memory. Invite them to hum along the second time through. Now you're ready to introduce the extended song. Show children ho w to use their fingers to represent the fish. Repeat the song several times, each time changing the amount that swim away.

I Caught a Fish Alive (adding and subtracting version)

One, two, three, four, five

I caught five fish alive

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten

I add five fish again

How many do I have?

Ten little fishies on both hands!

Five fishies swim away

How many are left today?

Use a classic counting game with a new set of words to add some fun to adding and subtracting. Ask children to use their fingers to count the bananas. Here is the new version of "One Potato, Two Potato":

"One Potato, Two Potato"

One banana, two banana,

three banana, four

One jumped and it fell to the floor

How many bananas are left? Three


One banana, two banana,

three bananas now

One skipped away and took a bow

How many bananas are left? Two


One banana, two banana, stand up tall

One sprouted wings so it wouldn't fall

How many bananas are left? One


Sad little one banana, standing

all alone,

Peeting so lonely, she called on

the phone,

"Two banana, three banana, four

banana come

To play with me and have some fun"

How many bananas now? Four!

Playing the Numbers

Use the old favorite song, "Johnny Works with One Hammer" as the basis for a counting activity using an object-filled number line. Keep a classroom number line set up along the floor in your group-time area. Encourage children to add and change the objects in each number box frequently. As an extended activity, ask them to use the items they placed on the number line as instruments as they sing their own version of "Johnny Works with One Hammer." In each verse, sing a child's name and have him pick up the appropriate number of objects from the number line and shake, tap, or clap them as the others sing! The verse might sound like: "Betsy plays with one block, one block, one block. Betsy plays with one block, all day long. Betsy plays with two crayons, two crayons, two crayons..." and so on.