Kites and Kite Tails
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 provided for guidance. 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.


Plastic screw caps from soft drink and spring water bottles will fit the circles. Collect at least 10 in each of two colours. The board and the caps are a substitute for the school resource called Poly Plug. Buttons are also a possibility, even pebbles of similar sizes, if you have enough in two colours. If you think of something else that works let us know.
  • Print 2 copies of this Poly Plug Frame and cut away the excess paper from each frame. Save one until later.
  • One calculator (there's one on your phone)
  • Write the title of this challenge and today's date on a fresh page in your maths journal.

Counting With Kites

These learners are pleased with their kite and its tail. We don't know whether the idea came from them or their teacher, but just holding the Poly Plug frame by one corner is enough to say:
Hey, this looks a bit like a kite. Let's see what we can do with it.

And the first thing to do with it, unless the learner immediately has a different idea for you to run with, is decorate the kite.

  • These blue caps fit on the circles. Let's use them to make a pattern or picture on the kite.
Limiting the number of caps makes for more interesting results than filling every row with caps.

The photos below are designs children have created.
We strongly suggest you photograph your kites too and celebrate them.

  • I love it. Let me take a photo of that.
Celebrate again later by displaying on your TV for the family, or sending it to Grampa, or uploading it to your social media, or ... This public display afterwards is an opportunity to relive the learning.
  • Nana, I'm going to ask you some questions about this maths kite I made today.

It doesn't matter what the design is, it will yield to questions such as these. But of course, there is no requirement to ask every question every time you use the activity. These are simply guidance for teasing out the mathematics resident in the picture.

  • Count the number of caps you used.
  • Can we check that another way?
  • Close your eyes. I'm going to cover some of the caps with a piece of paper. When I say 'open' you try to figure out the number I have covered.
  • How can you check that?
  • Look, there were ...caps in your picture and I took away ...caps by covering. (Cover again). How many caps are not covered?
  • So, ...caps take away ...caps leaves ...caps.
  • Would you like to write that together on the calculator?
  • Okay my turn. I'll close my eyes and you cover.
Alternatively an addition could have been the focus of this cameo.
  • Guess the number of caps we would need to cover the empty circles?
  • That's a great hypothesis. How could we check that?
  • Could we check it a different way?
Again an opportunity to discuss an addition and/or a subtraction.
  • If I made a kite the same as yours, how many caps would I need.
  • I will do that in a minute, but first guess the number of caps we would have altogether.
  • Shall I make mine now so we can check?
When checking, encourage counting on from the known number of their caps, rather than starting again and counting both lots as one.
  • Wow, that was good counting. You counted every one. But I know a short cut. Would you like me to show you?
Could be an opportunity here to record with the calculator again with both 'yours' + 'mine' = 'total' and/or
Now we have two the same. That's two times with the same pattern. Would you like to use the 'times' button on the calculator.
  • I wonder if we could figure out the number of caps we would need if everyone in the family made one of your kites?

Sample Kite Designs

Get the feel of the activity by choosing one of these and trying yourself out with the questions above. You will probably find each design also suggests other questions. For example this first one seems to cry out that 2 + 4 + 4 + 2 makes 12 and it can be seen in more than one way. Or 12 - 6 = 6 and it can also be seen in more than one way.

The photos are also available as a PDF Slide Show. Choose full screen if offered the choice. Exit full screen with Esc.

  • Some days you might want to work together on screen with 'someone else's kite'.

Counting With Kite Tails

A kite isn't a kite without a tail and the photo at the top of the page shows what we mean. When you have had some time making and exploring a kite design, it's time to use more caps to make the tail. On the floor is good because there is usually more room for the tail to grow.

It starts with, Let's put all our other caps into a pile over there. Now, with two hands, pull some of them over here.

  • How many caps do you think you have?
  • How can we check that hypothesis?
  • Can we check it another way?
  • If we arrange the caps into twos how many do you think there will be? Let's check.
  • If we arrange the caps into fives how many do you think there will be? Let's check.
  • Is there another way you would like to arrange the caps?
Opportunities here too for taking photos and using the calculator and recording in the maths journal.
  • Now let's put them in a long line to make the kite tail.
Check again that the number is the same. Some children will think that this number is bigger because it stretches further.
  • What does the tail look like if we split it into twos, fives, threes?
  • Make a pattern in the tail. If you only have one colour of cap you still make a pattern with caps up and caps down.
  • Do you think you are longer or shorter or the same length as the kite and it's tail? How can we find out? (Remember to photograph.)

Have fun exploring Kites and Kite Tails.

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 kite pattern, or using someone else's kite keeps it fresh. Asking the same questions for a new kite 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 Kites 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 Kite Tails. The photos and some of the ideas for using them are from another activity called Free Play which is available to member schools of Calculating Changes.

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


Maths At Home is a division of Mathematics Centre