summer art/math

Counting & Arranging, with 5 year-olds

Flower person
Jeffrey’s Flower Person. Jeffrey is five years old.

I’m writing about two separate projects here that seems to have nothing to do with each other, but there was something about doing them, one right after the other, that worked so well that this is how I am going to be writing about them.

The first project is a structured bookish making project that references counting and the composition of numbers.

The second project is one I’ve written about before,, is recomposing natural materials to make images that look like people.

The first project is not a creative activity for the kids, rather it’s more about discovery, trying to get them used to the idea that the number 10 can be seen as a composition of smaller numbers. The second project, using flower petals, leaves and other natural materials, has loads of room for improvising. There was something about following the structured project with the unstructured project that really worked for these kids.

items for bead counting project
The pieces for the Composing 10 project. Needs 10 pony beads, yarn to string them on,a hole puncher and PDFs, which are posted below

The counting project is simple to assemble, Everything is printed on a heavy copy paper. The piece with the words on it is folded into a simple pocket. I did the folds for the pocket (which is just folding up an edge on the line, and then folding in half to so it becomes a folder), punched two holes near the top, and tied a piece of yarn to one of the holes.

Here are the pdfs if you want to make this with a group of your own:

five plus five

four plus six

seven plus three

eight plus two

NIne plus one

bead counting pocket

and here’s a pdf of all of the above in a single document, which will be trickier, but possible, to use if you want to use a variety of colors Bead counting all pages together

Here what it looks like assembled.



So, ten beads. Cards go in pockets, Kids separate the beads according to the card below it, then…

…they remove the card and compare the beads on the card to their own beads.  This card then gets put in the side pocket and the next card shows…

…and the activity is repeated.

I was floored by how much the kids liked doing every bit of this activity. They took it so seriously, counting the beads and checking, and doing it for all the cards. It was lovely.

No question, kids love using beads.

This took only about 25 minutes. For about the next forty minutes we made flower people.

Cora at work

Not going to say too much about these, other than OMG. Loved how these turned out.

I photograph these, then remove the backgrounds.

Lily’s flower person

Just today I finished taking away the backgrounds. Am making prints to give to the kids.


I just love this project. Kids worked very seriously on their creations.

I had plenty of materials to work with because I had put out a request on Facebook for people in my community to drop off flowers to our classroom in the morning. Tons of stuff showed up: it was awesome. 

So much variety!

Looking forward to doing this again next summer.

addendum Sept 16, 2018

Here’s a video showing how to make the beads book.

summer art/math

Big Book Playground for 5 year olds



These five year-olds that I am seeing once a week this summer keep exceeding my expectations. I’m trying to engage them with relevant, age appropriate concepts, but they mostly seem to be at least one step ahead of where I expect them to be.

They will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. I am not expecting that any of them can read anything. I made this castle like construction for them so that we can play around with spatial relationships. This construction of mine has one low wall that bears the label “over”, which I wanted kids to look over. H promptly climbed over it bending one of the merlons, which made me complain. But H retorted, “but it SAYS OVER.” Grr. 5 years old.

Next to each other
Next to each other


What my thought was, for this past week, was to get the kids to pose with my castle/book such that they are acting out actions in 3D space.

I’m relying on this research    which says

“Clement, a professor at The State University of New York at Buffalo and co-author of Learning and Teaching Early Math, advises parents to use shape and space words, such as behind, under, deep, last, backward, triangle, and corner, in your daily interactions with your young kids. According to Clement, by saying things like, “Look, I cut your cheese sandwich into triangles,” and “I hid your shoes behind the sofa; can you find them?” you’re “mathematizing” your child through daily routines.” 

Through , Between

The time goes so fast in these sessions. I think about ways to leverage our work/play so that it  resonates  To make the most out of our time together, what I am doing is taking photographs of the children posing with the castle, with the shapes, and with each other, then slide the images into Photoshop to create coloring book pages.


I will make copies for the kids, with a simple binding. Haven’t done this coloring book kind of thing before. Hope it works out. So far, it’s pretty adorable.


summer art/math

Little hands, Little Books, Folds & Math

Week one, making paper bags, writing names, counting and threading beads
Week one, making paper bags, writing names, counting and threading beads

I’ve been on a quest to explicitly tease out the connections between bookarts and math, This is the third summer I’m with groups of children who will be entering kindergarten in the fall so it was fortuitous that I saw this article about things to think about when doing projects with the very young. The fact that Graham Fletcher gave it a thumbs up encouraged me to read this article carefully.

The first thing about the article that caught my attention was that “math gets an average of only 58 seconds per day.” in the average pre-school and kindergarten classes. So, even though I get only an hour a week with each of the groups, this time may actually be meaningful to these kids.

Here are a few ideas from the article that I am working on addressing:

“,,,kids who learned shapes and spatial skills also showed pronounced benefits in math and writing readiness.”

Shapes and spatial skills: this makes me think of paper-folding and books. (Yes, everything makes me think of paper-folding and books. So be it)

No glue paper bag
No glue paper bag Here’s the video that I learned it from

I had just come across a great way to make a paper bag, a way that seemed just right for the very young. During my first session with the kids we made these bags out of newspaper. You can see them in the first photo of this post. We’ll  makes more of these bags the next time I see these kids, but next time I will use prettier papers.

Paper Bag from a rectangle

The key things I want kids to actually SEE is:

  • the alignment of the middle fold lines when folding up the flap (fourth drawing above), so that the flap folds up evenly all the way across, and
  • how to judge folding an edge the paper so that the doubled over side is about the same size as the not-doubled over sides (as in the sixth drawing above). This folds the paper in thirds, but of course I didn’t attempt to talk about thirds to four- and five-year olds. They don’t grasp the IDEA of thirds, but they have no trouble seeing it.
  • I also want them to experience how they can, by themselves, transform a piece of paper into a bag. Making these bags was a delight for these kids.
The numbers of them
The numbers of them

We did talk about numbers, and did some counting, but we didn’t do rote counting. Instead, all the counting we did was related to counting ourselves. There were 10 children and three more. First we counted the children, then I asked them to guess what number we’d get if we included everyone in the room. It was fun to hear all their answers. Some children were “right” but I made sure to tell all the kids who weren’t “right” that all answers with are important because they are all on the path to the truth.

Rearranging ourselves into a number line
Rearranging ourselves into a number line

I have a thing about number lines. When I can figure out a way for the kids themselves to arrange themselves into a number line, well that’s the best. For this first time I let them arrange themselves by whatever means worked for them. They don’t all know the numbers, or understand this arrangement but, I found out that most of these kids know their numbers. The next time we do this I will intervene by asking them to use words only, rather than words that rely on gestures, to arrange themselves. Doing this aligns with the article I mentioned above: “ Clements urges parents and teachers to teach kids what he calls the “Language of space” – words like front, back, behind, top, bottom, over, under, last, first, next, backward, in, on, deep, shallow, triangle, square, corner, edge, etc.”

Four page book
Four page book

I never know how much we can do in a session, but I’m hoping to make this little four-page counting book with the kids: more spatial practice, more practice with the ability to “… identify the number of items in a small group”, a way to have a conversation about shapes, and, yeah, I just like making books with kids.

There are more things I am thinking about, will be thinking about with these summer projects, but now I have to get back to work prepping for tomorrow’s class.








Art and Math

Bubbles & Connections

Sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring to remind me of connections.

Years ago I played around with decorating papers with colored bubbles.

“Bubble marbling” is a simple technique that can create some really fun images. I’ve hardly ever done this with kids because it can get really messy. I did teach it in an adult workshop at Dieu Donné Papermill, NYC many years ago. It caught the eye of Helen Heibert, and, in 2001, she included an image I made with a brief description of the technique in her book, Paper Illumninated, which is a gorgeous collection of instructions about making paper lanterns.

hey, look, I’m in this picture!

Yesterday I showed this bubble technique to groups of kindergartners. By delightful coincidence, I also heard from Helen Hiebert yesterday.

Helen is still making paper lanterns. With the proliferation of LED light strips and other safer options for illumination, paper lanterns make so much more sense now then they did it 2001. Helen was telling me about the on-line course she is teaching, which sounds fabulous, so I am sharing this info with you, too before going on about bubbles any further.

Helen Hiebert's Shadow Lantern Screen
Helen Hiebert’s Shadow Lantern Screen

While it doesn’t appear that she showing any bubble marbling this time around, she is teaching an impressive array of projects that include paper cutting, tessellations, and pop-ups. I am happy to spread the word about this. You can allow yourself to be inspired by looking a video she made at

You can learn about the bubble marbling from me. Now.


Dressing up to do something special
Dressing up to do something special

While it’s not required, it’s not a bad idea to dress up before making a mess. This sets a mood, but it also protects clothing.

Bubble Marbling in action
Bubble Marbling in action

Here’s what to do: put about a tablespoon of paint (tempra, acrylic, any strong pigment but not ink because you would need too much) in a fairly shallow container, preferably round. Add bubble mixture. I buy this ready made, or make it with Ultra Dawn, water, and a touch of glycerin. Now mix the paint REALLY REALLY well with the bubble solution. Place a straw in the bubble solution, blow gently, like blowing bubbles into milk. Make the bubbles just high enough to be above the rim of your container. Then GENTLY lay a piece of paper onto the bubbles and remove.

Bubble Prints
Bubble Prints

That’s it. They dry fast. You can overlay colors on top of each other. So much fun. But there’s more. There’s something to notice.

Three fold symmetry
Three fold symmetry

Yesterday, doing this with these kids, I reminded them of the three-fold symmetry projects that we did a couple of weeks ago…then

Looking at the symmetry of how the bubbles meet each other

I showed them that the shape we used to make the our three-fold symmetries is the same as the shape that the bubbles make where they meet. And everywhere they meet they make this same shape.

Now that’s a connections worth noticing.

They loved seeing this. Then they said, It looks like a soccer ball!


Symnetry like a soccer ball
Symmetry like a soccer ball

I’m learning that anything that looks like hexagons reminds kids of soccer balls. I can live with that.