Maths: Shape shifters

The sand tray is a great place to focus on numbers and shapes. Use a variety of materials in wet and dry sand to encourage children to sort, count, name and measure a variety of shapes.

Wet and dry sand; counting materials (shells, pebbles, acorns, pine cones, glass beads, buttons, sticks, stones; dry beans; gold paint; marker pens; lolly sticks; felt pens; plastic cups; spoons; shallow trays; logs; plastic frogs; duplo bricks; empty green plastic bottles; small world play figures; real or plastic coins; numbers and operations sand moulds; egg timer; stop watch; tweezers; treasure (jewellery, necklaces, brooches, medals, buttons); metal detector; weighing scales; tape measures; metre sticks; rulers; shape cutters and moulds; kinetic sand.

Using wet and dry sand in your sand tray, use a variety of materials to encourage children to create patterns, sort and count different items, identify and read numerals, manipulate numbers, handle money, make and name shapes, weigh and measure treasure, and develop an understanding of time.

Key vocabulary
numbers one to 20, patterns, one more, one less, highest, lowest, add, how many?

Key learning points
Encourage children to count and order numbers 0 - 20
Use simple games and rhymes to develop counting skills
Talk about methods children use to solve number problems
Develop use of mathematical vocabulary

  • Playing and exploring
    Children have a go at creating and copying patterns in the sand
    They play some number games to practise reading numbers
    They investigate hidden coins and sort and identify money

Natural patterns
Provide children with natural items to sort and count in the sand tray, sticking to items found naturally in sand, such as shells and pebbles. Ask them to create patterns of alternate items on the surface of the sand.

Change the materials to suit the season or topic. Try acorns and pine cones, glass beads and buttons, or sticks and stones.

Counting skills
Use some natural materials such as shells and pebbles to practise counting. Write the numbers 1 -–10 on some larger shells to act as markers. Can children nd and count six shells and display them on the sand with the number 6 shell? Hide lots of dry beans in the dry sand tray for them to find using sieves. Include a number of gold magic beans. Can they they work together to nd all ve golden beans?

Reading numbers
Try some of these games to practise counting and recognising numbers.

Write numbers 0 - 20 on the tips of coloured lolly sticks. Push them into the wet sand, number side down, and challenge a group of children to each pick one out, after a count of 1, 2, 3. Who has got the highest/lowest number? Can two children add their two numbers together?

Drop it!
Write numbers 1 - 10 on the tips of 20 lolly sticks. Add two sticks with the words ‘Drop it!’ Call out a number and ask children to take turns to try and pick out the stick that is one more or one less that you called. If they do they keep the stick. If they pick ‘Drop it!’, they have to return all their sticks to the sand. The winner is the child with the most sticks.

Just a spoonful of sand
Set out a bowl of wet sand, 10 labelled plastic cups, 1 – 10 and some spoons. Ask children to try and spoon the right number of spoonfuls into each cup. Which cup has the most sand in?

Writing numbers
Ask children to write numbers in the wet sand tray with their ngers or sticks using number cards to copy. Provide shallow trays of dry sand for children to use to practise forming numerals accurately.

Singing numbers
Try out some number rhymes in the sand tray. Place some logs in the sand with ve colourful frogs and act out
Five little speckled frogs. Build a wall out of duplo bricks and place 10 green empty plastic bottles on it to sing

Ten green bottles or adapt it to 10 small children and use small world play gures.

Counting money
Place real or plastic coins in the sand for children to find and sort. Provide some pots labelled with different coins for them to put the money inside. Encourage identi cation and counting of money using 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p and 20p coins.

Active learning
Children enjoy making patterns in the sand for each other to copy
They focus and concentrate during a timed activity
They persevere with using tweezers to pick up items in the sand

Pattern challenge
Create patterns for children to copy. Draw them in the sand or use different objects to make repeated patterns. Invite children to make their own patterns and extend them as they wish. Ensure there is plenty of time available to children to explore their patterns as they wish.

Number challenge
Buy some numbers and operations sand moulds so children can practise making number shapes and write simple number sentences in the sand for each other to answer.

Timing challenge
Show children an egg timer or use a stopwatch on the interactive white board. Set it for three minutes and see how many items they can find hidden in the sand within the time limit. Who collects the most items? Who can build the most sand castles in two minutes? Ask children to devise their own time challenges.

Motor challenge
Provide kitchen tongs, tweezers, and chopsticks for the sand tray and ask children to use them to pick up the coins or other items in the sand. Does it take longer using the different equipment?

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children find treasure and compare it using mathematical vocabulary
    They create their own new maths game and demonstrate it to others
    They find ways to measure different sand creations

Measure the treasure
Hide some jewellery and metal items such as necklaces, jewels, brooches, medals and buttons in the sand for children to dig and discover. Bring in a mini-metal detector. Brush off the sand and ask children to predict which item will be the heaviest/longest or most valuable. Provide weighing scales
so they can check their predictions. Ask them to sort items according to different measures – size, weight and length.

Sandy shapes factory
Use a shallow tray of dry sand as a sensory chalk board and encourage children to draw different shapes. Can children draw circles, triangles and squares with their
fingers or a blunt pencil? Turn the wet sand tray into a shapes factory. Let children use lolly sticks or straws to make shapes in the sand. How many straws do they need to make a triangle/square/ rectangle? Provide lots of shape cutters or moulds and ask children to create 2D and 3D shapes in the sand. Can they identify and name shapes correctly? Make some kinetic sand (see Sandy Goals (PD) and use it to make 3D shapes such as cubes and sphere.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
Working together to find the magic gold beans in the sand tray or play any of the number games will require children to ‘play co-operatively, taking turns with others’ (PSED). Developing co-ordination skills to write numbers and handle equipment such as tweezers demonstrates physical development. Singing and acting out number rhymes helps children to listen and follow instructions (CL) as they sing songs and experiment with ways of changing them (EAD).





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