Addition and Counting Machine Maths Activity!

Create a machine from recycled materials to make a fun addition and counting activity for kids! A really hands-on and exciting, visual way to learn about combining and adding small groups of numbers.
Welcome to another post from our Playful Maths series, co-hosted with Learn with Play at Home! For  these two weeks we are sharing ways to do hands on maths activities using cardboard tubes! For this challenge we put together a really fun recycled machine for counting pom poms and adding small amounts in a really visual, hands on way.
 First I cut a wrapping paper tube into two and painted each piece in different colours. Next I cut a triangle shape out of the bottom to make an opening in each, then made holes into a small box  and pushed them through to make pipes into our machine. I folded the front flap so that the edges came up at the side, to direct the pom poms as they fell through and came out of the holes.

We then made some numbers to slot over the tubes by writing on cut pieces of larger cardboard tubes (these were from kitchen towels and wider than the wrapping paper tubes.) The last thing to add was a large bowl of sparkly pom poms (if in doubt, go with sparkles eh?!) and we were ready to get counting and adding!
They were so excited to get started with this and loved whoosing the pom poms down the tubes and catching them at the other end. Maths objectives aside, this was a fabulously fun activity all by itself and great for motor skills, hand:eye co-ordination and cause and effect!

  I slipped two of the number tubes over the pipes and asked them to read the numerals they could see. Then gave the challenge “can you put the right number of pom poms down each pipe and see how many the number machine will turn them into altogether?!”

When both sets of pom poms had come down the tubes and landed at the front I asked them to carefully count up how many there now were altogether, but touching or moving each one as they did so. This act is called counting with 1:1 correspondence and is a vital stage of maths development in young children.

Then we were able to say what number magic had happened in the machine. “Wow! 5 pom poms and 2 pom poms makes 7 pom poms altogether!” “So 5 + 2 = 7!”

We repeated this with lots of combinations of numbers up to 10. The next step would be to write teen numbers and see if they could rise to the challenge of such large amounts of counting using 1:1 correspondence. Can you think of a fun way to make a subtraction machine? That could also come as a next step!

What they are learning as they play:
maths: recognising numerals 0-10 (and beyond), counting using 1:1 correspondence, combining small groups of objects to work out addition problems, problem solving, recognising small amounts, grouping
motor skills: fine motor control, hand/eye co-ordination, pincer grasp

Cakie: 4.5
Pop: 2.10
Bean: 11 mos

[Click the photo to see the whole series!]

Pop on over to Learn with Play at Home to see her counting and ordering with paper tubes activity too!

See our shape binoculars with paper tubes here.
Join us both every Friday for our continuing series about Playful Maths ideas. Click the photo to see previous activities in the series. Have a material you would like us to use? Suggest it below!

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  1. karen says

    GOSH this is brilliant!!!! As a Year One teacher this would be a really excellent resource in my classroom!! Thank you sooooooo much for sharing :-)

  2. deb says

    just off the top of my head, you could make a subtraction machine by adding another tube to hang down from thetriangular stage, say over the edge of a table. Kids could put some pompoms down one of the top tubes, then out of the pompoms that land at the bottom, push a certain number down the second tube onto the floor (!) and count how many are left…

  3. says

    Really like this idea. I need a to find a way to store recycled stuff. I’ve always done it, but at the moment we are living in a tiny shed (4 of us, with number 5 on the way) and there is just no room. I’m really missing having cardboard tubes, boxes and all those other useful things at my disposal. I think, however, that I could find everything I need to at least make a modified version of this awesome activity. My three year old will love the counting and my 17 month old will love the cause and effect. And yes, definitely using sparkly pom poms!

  4. says

    I am thinking this is some kind of wonderful idea! I am glad I found this on Pinterest. Thanks for a great “addition” to my Math/Manip. Center 😉

  5. says

    Oh, what a great idea! And how about for subtraction turning away one of the tubes, so that the balls (whole sum) from the tray would not come back to it again…So still the same prop can be used… :)

  6. says

    love this. thinking about modifying it to use the pom poms to represent places (1s, 10s, 100s, etc) for my older two. the wee one will love this as is.

  7. Ruth Klein says

    Fantastic!, so creative, I run a small play group of mixed ages, older ones age 2yrs, another lovely way to have fun with numbers.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

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