Counting with Beads and Pipe Cleaners Maths Activity

Use coloured beads, pipe cleaners, numerals and play dough to set up an exciting counting and sorting maths activity for kids. This is also great for fine motor development and the finished creations can be made into permanent resources for future maths games.
number bead math game
Here we are in another week of our Playful Maths series, co-hosted with Learn with Play at Home, where we bring you easy, exciting and playful ways to introduce early maths concepts with kids. This week the everyday material that we are using is pipe cleaners, which can be obtained from £1 shops/ $1 stores or at the supermarket craft section.
I set out a bowl of bright wooden beads, thick pipe cleaners in corresponding colours, wooden numerals and play dough as an invitation to sort, thread and count.
Sticking the end of the pipe cleaner into the play dough is a good way to help secure it, ready for threading. The pipe cleaners are also very helpful for little fingers as they retain their shape and are easy to push beads on to, compared to using string or thread.
They started off by choosing a pipe cleaner, then picked up a wooden number from the table at random. Then they looked in the basket for beads in the matching colour and counted out the right amount that their numerals represented.
Threading onto the pipe cleaner takes real concentration and is great for hand: eye co-ordination and strengthening those little hand muscles, vital for holding a pencil for writing in the future. It also needs to be down carefully, one at a time, which enforces the important counting practice of 1:1 correspondence (literally meaning that one object represents one number while counting things out.)
Once the beads are threaded onto the pipe cleaners, they can be moved back and forwards and re-counted over and again, which makes these a brilliant resource to make and store with other maths games and resources. They are similar to the Montessori bead strings that are used by children to count along and make larger numbers with.
As an extension activity for more able children, you could get them to thread all the different amounts up to 9, then use the threaded pipe cleaners to add small quantities together. Hide them in a bag or behind your back and ask them to pick out two at a time, then see if they can add the two strings of beads together to find a total. Can they do it with three strings, four, all nine?! Can they write down the results on paper?
Baby Bean loved this activity too, although I had to watch her carefully incase she put any of the beads into her mouth. She was particularly interested in moving the beads up and down the completed pie cleaners, and pulling them off to fling onto the floor (of course!) Great as a motor skills and dexterity game for her as well and her concentration on her self-given task was amazing!
What they are learning as they play:
maths: recognising numerals, sorting and matching by colour, counting using 1:1 correspondence, counting up to 9 objects reliably
physical: fine motor dexterity, baby grip, pincer grasp, threading

phse: concentration, perseverance, problem solving, co-operation, completing a task

Cakie: 4.6

Pop: 3.0
Bean: 13 mos

Join us both every week for our continuing series about

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See how Learn with Play at Home used pipe cleaners in her fantastic numeral- making activity!


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  1. says

    Ooh, good one. I like the colour matching added in it as well. It would be fun to thread corresponding number of beads onto my pipe cleaner numbers as well. Yours look gigantic by the way! Cool! We only had reasonably small thinnish ones at our place. I’ll have to look out for some giant ones. 😀


  1. […] About 6 months ago, I actually tried to get Nat to thread beads through pipe cleaners or strings but he wasn’t very interested as he found it rather difficult to handle. Just 6 months later, it’s a different story. Kids grow up so fast yeah. He loved the thread the beads through the pipe cleaners and he did it as though he had never seen it or attempted it before. Just check out the intense concentration powers he is executing! Occasionally he would still ask me to let him play with them because his counting is not quite there yet. I seriously think his math is not as strong as his language skills. Well, at least he likes playing with the beads. That’s a good start. For more details on this activity, you can find it at this wonderful website. […]