Counting Frames
Years K - 1 (2)

A context for on-going, informal chats about maths.
These ideas were originally prepared around the school resource called Poly Plug. This is reflected in the photos and images below. However the substitute equipment described will be fine since the real strength of the activity will be sharing time and mathematical conversation with your learner. Just a little bit of time each day or two - around 10 to 15 minutes.

It's not about covering curriculum. It's about uncovering and extending an interest in things mathematical.


You will need objects to count. Sometimes they will just come up naturally in the day - perhaps the sultanas in a packet asked for as a snack, or the little sticky toy people collected during a supermarket promotion. Other times you deliberately introduce a collection of something such as plastic screw caps from soft drink and spring water bottles, or buttons of similar sizes, or pasta pieces, or pebbles or ...

The only requirements for the objects are:

  1. Your learner has an interest in them. For example, running their fingers through a tub of plastic caps usually encourages interest.
  2. The objects fit on one or other size of counting frame.
You will also need copies of each of these counting frames; 2 or 3 copies should do as a start. Cut away the excess paper from each frame so that when you use more than one, they can touch edge to edge. Keep them handy so you can grab them as needed through the day as if they are a normal part of conversation. Now you can choose an appropriate size frame for the objects of the day. For example, a smaller frame for sultanas and a larger one for screw caps.

Other things to have handy are a calculator (there's one on your phone), sheets of blank paper for masking and the learner's maths journal.
There is no need to use the journal every day, but at least once or twice a week with this activity make a dated entry that describes the experience of the day. What did we learn with our counting frames today darling?.


  • Masking is simply using sheets of paper to cover rows or columns that you don't yet want to reveal.
It's like keeping a secret so you can ask questions like What could we do if we slide the paper down one row?, or, for more experienced children, asking for predictions of the number under the paper.


The following story from a class of 5/6 year olds describes the sort of approach you could take.

First you need a stimulus for counting. It might just be I wonder how many circles there are on this paper? ...or... on this much of the paper?.

In this class it was I wonder how many children are in our class today?. That was followed by:

  • Can we check it another way? which is a mathematician's question.
That led to several alternatives, one of which was counting by twos. Then each pair :
  • showed counting by twos by pushing out two rows in their frame and sticking their fingers in the gaps,
  • discovered it was ten, but checked it in other ways,
  • and plugged some 'people' into the gaps.
So now the children were discussing people lining up in twos like they do coming into class.
  • What happens if we line up all our plug people in a really long line of two?
  • How many people do you think there are?
  • Would you like to check your guess?
And that's what you see them doing - with great excitement.
Their enthusiasm (and eventual success) generates from a
  • well discussed,
  • much touched,
  • visually interesting,
  • context relevant
basis which grew confidence, becoming the launch pad for a new challenge that seemed achievable - especially in the context of working together.
That's really all there is to this activity. It's up to you to find opportunities to count, starting with the circles on the large frame and moving on to predicting the count of a collection of objects, checking, placing, counting another way, checking again and recording (perhaps with a camera).

  • How many do you think we have?
  • Can we count them another way?
  • What happens if our frame looks like this today?
  • Can we do the counting on our calculator?
We would love to see photos and comments from your Counting Frames explorations.
We have a gallery below where contributions can be shared so others can be stimulated.

Have fun exploring Counting Frames.

Reminder: This may have taken a while to read through, but once you get into it with the learner it's only 10-15 minutes every couple of days for as long as the adventure feels fresh to the learner. For most learners just changing the objects or the shape of the frame or the size of the collection keeps it fresh. Asking the same questions for a new count doesn't seem to bother most learners. In fact, it seems to lead to increased focus and confidence.

Just Before You Finish

For this part you need your maths journal and your Working Like A Mathematician page. For some of the days you use this activity,
  • Draw a picture of you and me playing Counting Frames today.
  • How did we work like a mathematician today?
    Model reading through the Working Mathematically document and record 2 ways.


Answers & Discussion

These notes were originally written for teachers. We have included them to support parents to help their child learn from Counting Frames. They include a link to another classroom story similar to the one above, but from a different school.

Send any comments or photos about this activity and we can start a gallery here.


Maths At Home is a division of Mathematics Centre