Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money

Counting Money for Beginners

My preschooler received some Easter money from his grandmother ($5) and found some hidden inside of an Easter egg ($2).  Since we were headed off to Target, he really wanted to bring his money to buy a Skylander.  I told him that they cost ten dollars or fifteen dollars.  He had to count his money to see if he had enough to purchase one.


Young ones usually count the number of bills. For example, he had a five dollar bill and two one dollar bills.  Most of the time, kids that young will count the three bills and say they have three dollars. Ideally, if I had five one dollar bills I could show him that the five one dollar bills was the same as one five dollar bill.  But I didn’t have enough bills for that.  Math bears came to our rescue again!


Here’s how I would show a young one how to add bills of different denominations using readily available materials:


Step 1:

Place the bills largest to smallest in a line.

Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money

Step 2:

Have the child read the number on the first bill. Take out the corresponding number of math bears, i.e. five math bears for a five dollar bill.  Teaching Tip:  This gives the child a visual, concrete representation of the number on the bill.

Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money


Step 3:

Repeat the process of corresponding the math bears to the number on the bills.



Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money


Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money


Step 3:

Have the child count  all the math bears together.   Teaching Tip: Have the child start on the left hand side to count.  Just like reading, we typically solve math problems left to right.  It’s never too early to establish good habits!


Empowering Parents to Teach- Counting Money



In our case, we were not done yet.  Remember, he was counting for a purpose.  He needed to see if he had enough money to purchase a Skylander.  I asked my little guy if seven dollars was more or less than ten dollars.  He said, “Less” and immediately started to throw a tantrum because he realized he didn’t have enough money.


Once he calmed down I asked him an extension question, “If you have $7, how many more dollars do you need to make $10?” He responded, “$3″.  He can mentally figure out what numbers add up to ten so I did not need to use the math bears to help him solve this. But, if he needed help, I could have put out seven math bears and we could count together how many bears we added to make ten.


Older brother came to this rescue and gave his brother his Easter money- $5. It was super sweet.  We counted the money once again and he now had enough money for his new toy!


I love when math can be taught in context for a real purpose!  Next time your preschooler or kindergartener wants to buy something, teach him or her how to count money!  Evaluate at the end if they have enough for their purchase.  :)



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Empowering Parents to Teach: Apple Math

Teachable Moments

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itselfJohn Dewey


There are so many learning opportunities around us, naturally, everyday.  Life requires skill, knowledge, patience, problem solving, and sometimes research.  We don’t have to contrive a learning experience for our children to learn.  We need to learn to survive and survival is our basic instinct.  Your child wants to learn!  Keep your eye open to opportunities in your children’s everyday experiences.  What skills or knowledge do they need to complete a task or solve a problem?


Sometimes it is best to let your child figure it out themselves, other times your guidance with the experience is beneficial.  I truly believe finding these natural teachable moments are the best way to teach!  Why?  Simply because the child is learning the skill within the context that is actually used, is by nature hands-on, and the child has a real purpose for solving the problem or learning the skill.


I’ll show you what I mean:


My son wanted make fresh juice.  Our go to recipe is to add kale, apples, celery into our juicer.  As I was finishing the dishes in the sink I asked my son (age 3) to get the apples out for me.  He took the whole bag to the table and I hear him count- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.  I walked over to him and noticed how he placed the apples. Instead of lining them up he placed them two by two with one by itself (as pictured).


Empowering Parents to Teach: Apple Math




By setting up his apples this way I noticed a natural occurrence of something that I knew he was learning.

A little while ago we read the book One Odd Day by Doris Fisher.  It touched on the concept of numbers being even or odd.  My little guy was catching on to the idea.  Once I realized this was a developing skill for him, I later introduced some hand-on activities to play with the concept.  He really liked it!  Knowing that this was a skill he was working on, I asked him if the nine apples were an even or odd number. We talked again about what makes a number even or odd.  We could tell that nine was odd because one apple doesn’t have a buddy (that’s our preschool language).  He looked at his apples again, he told me that four was even.  This showed me that he was continuing to think about the math concept by mentally checking other numbers to see if they were odd or even.



By taking out nine apples, we had a problem to solve.  We only needed four apples to make juice.

Other concepts he’s been working on is addition and subtraction with objects.   Since I only needed four apples for the juice I told him, “I only need four apples.  You need to take some away.  Do you know how many to take away?” At first, he insisted on putting all nine apples in the juicer.  That was really too much so I encouraged him to take away apples until there were only four left.  He took away the apples one or two a time until he only had four left.  As he took away the apples he lined them up on a different spot on the table.  Once he got down to only four apples, he counted how many had taken away to leave only four. Therefore, he realized that he had to take away five apples to get down to four apples remaining.


Empowering Parents to Teach- Teachable Moments

From nine apples, he took away five. The apple in his hand was never counted originally.


My hope is that this gets you thinking about your everyday experiences with your child and realizing their true potential.  You do not have to replicate things exactly as you see them.  A true teacher knows that every child is different and there is no script for learning. Follow your child’s lead.  Keep a mental note of what they can do, what they are learning, and what is too difficult for them.  Life will hand you teachable moments.





Empowering Parents To Teach- More or Less Game

Comparing Numbers With Math Bears

Comparing Number Quantities- More or Less


One of the earliest math skills children learn is the concept of more or less.  We know easily (as adults) that five is more than three, but to young ones this takes hands on experience with objects to gain this understanding.  I’ll show you one way to gain that experience through a fun game. My three year old LOVES this game! I made it up for him after he watched me and his brother play the card game, War.


More or Less game


  • Math Bears
  • Playing Cards



  • Take out any cards that are not numbers, such as the Joker,  Ace,  King,  Queen,  Jack, you only need the number cards.
  • Put the cards face down in one big pile


How to play:

1. Each player takes a card from the top of the pile and places it in front of him or herself with the number facing up.

Empowering Parents To Teach- game







2. Each player takes out the corresponding number of math bears and lines them up next to his or her card. I would do this in turns. Have the child or parent go first, then switch. That way, the child sees both numbers being constructed.


Empowering Parents To Teach-  More or Less Game







3. The child may be able to visually see that one number quantity is bigger than the other. If not, try lining them up closer to each other and matching them one to one, like this:


Empowering Parents To Teach- More or Less









4. Have the child compare which line is longer.  Remember, this only works if you line them up one to one.  Ask the child if they have more or less than you.  If the child has more, he or she wins.  If they have less, you win.


5. What if you both have the same quantity? Teach your child the term “equal”. You both have an equal number of bears.  You both win!


6. Repeat as many times as your child wants.


Teaching Tip: To extend this as your child advances with the skill, you can have your child compare how much larger a number is.  For example, using this method the child can see that five bears is bigger than three bears by two bears. 


This game is very simple, but lots of fun!  I made it up on the spot, which is why I love having my math bears handy.  You never know when they may be needed!

Empowering Parents To Teach: Adding with math bears

Adding with Math Bears

Making Math Hands On: Adding With Math Bears


Once your child has developed one to one correspondence, he or she can begin to understand addition.  There are many ways to incorporate adding into your day.  When you are playing with cars, for example, count how many cars you have.  Ask your child, “How many cars would you have if I added two more?”  Add two more cars and count them all together.  This is how I introduce the concept of adding, in the context of play with real objects.


After the child seems comfortable with the concept, I would add the number representation of the problem along with the manipulatives.   Eventually, after a lot of practice, the child can add without the aid of objects.  But there is no rush!  You want your child to add in a hands-on fashion enough times so that he or she can form mental representations in their minds.  Until then, they need the physical representation of the problem. This takes time and practice and it is very necessary.


How to show the physical representation of an addition problem:


The set up:

  • Tray
  • Math bears on the right side
  • Foam numbers 0-9 on top
  • A couple of addition problems (based on child’s level) on the left


Empowering Parents To Teach: Hands on adding with math bears


Empowering Parents to Teach: Numbers

Numbers 0-9


Step 1:  Draw a card with an addition problem.


Step 2:  Have the child put the corresponding number of bears for the top number and the bottom number. These two numbers are called addends.


Empowering Parents To Teach: Adding with math bears

Step 3:  Explain that the (+) plus sign tells us that we are to count the bears all together.  So if we have one bear and we add five more bears, how many do we have all together?  The child may begin to count all the bears.  If not, show the child how to count them all together.  Sometimes moving them together helps:

Empowering Parents to Teach: Adding with math bears

Putting them all together


I put them all together under the equal sign so that the child gets a visual image of where the answer goes.


Step 4:  Have the child find the number that corresponds to the quantity.

Empowering Parents To Teach: Adding math bears



Teaching Tip:  As your child learns the concept of addition, he or she is also learning math vocabulary.  Words like, “plus”, “all together”, “equals”, “sum”, and “addend” are great words to include in your explanation.


The more hands on practice your child has with the concept the better!  Often times, we jump too fast into paper and pencil before the child was able to form a solid foundation of the concept.  If your child comes home with addition homework and needs your help- break out the math bears!


Linked to: Montessori Monday on Living Montessori Now




Empowering Parents to Teach: Math Manipulatives

Math Manipulatives Must Haves

There are two items I always have around to help teach math- math bears and linking cubes. If I am tutoring, helping with my son’s homework, or trying to answer my preschooler’s math question, these two tools come in very handy!


Math is best learned in a hands on way. These two items allow me to do that by creating a physical representation of a math problem or concept. The best part is I can use them for so many things, I don’t have to buy a ton of different materials!


For older kids, there are a couple more items I like to keep around for more advanced concepts. I will share those in another post. You’d be surprised how much learning you can foster with just these two! If you are preparing your environment for teaching math, these are both great to have.



Math Bears

Empowering Parents to Teach: Math Manipulatives



Linking Cubes


Empowering Parents to Teach: Math Manipulatives


Both can be used for:



To order these on Amazon:

*These are affiliate links which means if you make a purchase from the links below, I receive a very small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Baby Bear Counters (102 ct.)

MathLink Cubes (Set of 100)

Snap Cubes Set Of 100 (Sorry, no picture)