Bear Counters are a math staple of many elementary classrooms, but these activities work with any variety of counters, such as bugs or farm animals. There are many different types available these days. We have a set of Learning Resources Three Bear Family Rainbow Counters. These have bears of three different sizes/weights and six different colours. Other sets available for purchase have four or five different colours of bears, such as this set that we also have: 50 Counting Bears with 5 Cups. If you don’t have any counters at all, no worries! Many of these activities can be done with things found around the house or yard: buttons, rocks, dried beans, small plastic animals, acorns, etc.
Here are a selection of some of the best and easiest activities for Bear Counters. These would be most suitable for Preschool and Early Elementary levels (grades K-2).
- Bears can be sorted by colour. This can be done even with young children that are still learning colour names. For these children, just provide a few colours at once and increase as time goes on. Children can separate the colours into individual piles or into plastic cups. Children could be involved in making their own sorting mats, colouring sheets of paper with each colour of bear. Older children can write the colour word onto pieces of paper and use them for sorting.
- Bears can also be sorted by size. Ask children to sort all of the large, medium, and small bears into piles. Again, the sizes can be written and/or drawn onto paper to use for sorting mats. Older children can combine sorting by colour and size by finding all of the large red bears or all of the medium purple bears.
Counting and Comparison:
- To practice one-to-one correspondence, provide the children with something like an empty egg carton, ice cube tray, or mini-muffin tin and just enough bears to fill each spot once. Let children lead the activity without much guidance. Many children will place one bear in each section. If this does not happen, revisit the activity again another day and then encourage the child to put one bear in each section. You can also put an arrangement of dot stickers on a piece of paper, and have the child put one bear on each dot sticker.
- Present the child with a handful of bears and ask them to count how many bears are in the pile. Place two separate piles of bears in front of the child. Do the piles have the same amount? Which pile has the most bears? What pile has the fewest bears? How do you know? Count to make sure. For older children, have them quantify the difference in the piles. How many more bears does that pile have? How many fewer bears does this pile have? How many more bears do I need to add to this pile to make the piles have the same amount?
- Provide dice with a die and ask children to roll the die and collect the matching number of bears. Use a variety of dice: numeral, dot pattern, 10 and 12 sided, dice-in-dice, etc. Older children can do this in pairs, each taking turns rolling the die a total of three times and trying to collect the most bears at the end.
- Provide a number card from 1-10 and ask the child to count out the correct number of bears to match the numeral on the card. Older children can have cards that present numbers in different ways: tally marks, dot patterns, written words, Roman numerals,etc.
Bears in the Zoo: A Counting Game
- You will need 10 clear, plastic cups. Using small squares of paper, write the numbers 1-10. Randomly put a number before each cup and have the child fill the cups with the appropriate amount of bears.
- With more small squares of paper, colour one square for each of the six colours of bears. On the remaining four squares, write question marks. In front of each cup, place both a number card and a colour card. Children will then combine counting and sorting by colour as they place the correct bears in the cages at the zoo. (The squares with question marks mean that the child can have a choice of colour or a mix of colours.)
- Line up one of each colour of bear. Start by introducing words like first, next, last, before, after. What bear comes first in line? Who is next in line? What bear is before the green bear? Who comes after the yellow bear?
- What colour of bear is 1st in the line? The purple bear is the 5th in the line; what bear is the 6th in line? Can you change the 2nd bear so that he will be 3rd instead?
- Make labels that say 1st, 2nd, etc. and have the children label a line of bears.
Using 5-Frames and 10-Frames:
- Start by using 5-frames first, then progress to using 10-frames. Both can be found here. These can be cut out, glued to cardstock, and laminated for durability.
- Put a selection of bears on one of the frames and ask the child to identify how many they see. At first, they will count one-by-one, but will eventually recognize them on sight. What is “one more” or “one less” than the number you see? How many empty spots do you see? How many more do you need to make 5 (or 10)?
- Roll a die, and put the correct number of bears on the frame. Keep rolling until you fill up the frame. Place any extra bears outside of the frame if needed.
- Fill up a 5-frame or 10-frame with two different colours of bears and ask students to either tell you a math equation to match the bears (ie: 2 red bears +3 blue bears = 5 bears in total).
- Put a certain number of bears on 2 copies of a 5-frame (or 10-frame). (ie: one frame with 2 bears, the other frame with 4 bears.) Ask the child to identify each, and then ask, How many more is 4 than 2? How many less is 2 than 4?
- Call out a number and ask students to build it. Without removing the counters, call out a new number. Can the child made adjustments to their frame, or do they need to start fresh with 1?
- Ask students to show a number larger than 5 (or 10). (Put extra bears outside of the frame). How many more is this number than 5 (or 10)?
- Show a numeral card from 0-5 (or 0-10). Have child recreate number on the frame. Take turns.
- Have the child put a desired number of bears on the 5 or 10-frame. Another player then asks “yes/no” questions to guess the number. Is there more than 3 bears? Is there less than 2 bears?
- Using a simple balance scale, like our Learning Resources Primary Bucket Balance, allow free exploration with weighing the bears. The set of family bear counters comes with three different weights of bears, making them perfect for use with this activity.
- Find small objects and toys around the house. One at a time, put each object in one side of the balance scale. How many small bears does it take to balance the scale? Will you also need the same amount of large bears to balance the scale?
- **For estimation activities, use either all of the same size of bears, or similar bears, such as the small and medium bears together**
- Estimation is very complex and requires multiple exposures over time. To start, ask child to estimate (make a ‘best guess’) how many bears they could hold in one hand. Record the answer. Ask child to take a handful and then count the results. Record, and compare the answers. Was their estimate close? Repeat in different ways. How many bears do you think you could hold in two hands? How many bears do you think can fit in this plastic cup? How many bears do you estimate will fill this small container?
- Fill a small-to-medium sized clear plastic container with bears. For younger children, use very small containers and increase in size as children have more experience with estimation. Ask the child to estimate how many bears are in the container. Allow them to take out 10 and hold them in their hands to get a visual on what 10 bears looks like. Return bears to the container and have child make their best estimate. Record answers and then count to check.
- Put the same number of bears into three different sizes of containers. A cup, a bowl, a wide container, a tall skinny container, etc. Choose containers that will allow the bears to “look” visually different – some bears packed together, some spread out. Do all the containers have the same number of bears? Does one container have more? How do you know? How can we check? Why do you think they look different?
Which Bear is Missing? Visual Memory Game
- Line up four bears of different colours in a row. Ask the child to study the bears for a moment and then have them cover their eyes while you take away one of the bears. Which bear is missing? Replace the bear, and repeat. Work up to using all six of the colours.
- Provide child with two colours of bears to explore. Encourage them to make an AB Pattern, by alternating the colours (red-blue-red-blue). When children are comfortable with this and can do the same with other colours, add another colour to make an ABC Pattern (red-blue-green-red-blue-green).
- Older children can make more complex patterns like AABB or ABCC etc. They can also incorporate the sizes of bears into their pattens.
- Start a pattern, and ask the child to continue the pattern. Alternate turns creating the pattern.
Number Stories (Simple Addition and Subtraction):
- Use the bears to provide simple addition equations to young learners in a visual, hands-on way. Two bears went to the park. They met two more bears there. How many bears were there altogether?
- Similarly, use the bears to present simple subtraction stories. Eight bears were playing outside. Two bears went inside for a drink. How many bears were left playing outside?
- Ask children to come up with and present their own number stories with the bears. These can be acted out with the bears, and/or drawn as a picture.
Bears in the Cave:
- Put a certain number of bears of the same colour in a row or bunch. Ask the child how many there are. Using a cup, tell the child that some bears are going to go into the cave to sleep. Have them cover their eyes while you put the cup over some of the bears (or all…or none!) Ask them to look and determine how many bears are in the cave. Uncover the hidden bears and talk about the addition equation. Two bears were in the cave. Three bears were out of the cave. Two and three together, equals five bears in total. Take turns. Start by using only 3 or 4 bears and work up to using 10.
- In a bag, have the child help to put about 10 of one colour of bear (blue), and just 1 of another colour (red). If you reach your hand in and pull out just one bear, what colour do you think it will be? Return the bear to the bag. Repeat many times. Record results with tally marks if desired. What colour of bear do you pick the most often? Why don’t you pick the red bear very often? Why do you think that happens? Are the chances big that you will pick a red bear next? Even with there being a small chance of picking a red bear next, is it still possible? Could it happen? Is it likely to happen? What colour is it more likely that you will pick?
- Make a physical graph using the bears to show data. Ask the child to use a measuring cup to take a scoop of bears. Line them up by colour, each row beside each other. Which row has the most bears? The least? Are there any colours of bears that you have zero of? Do some colours have the same amount of bears? How many bears did you collect all together? If we did this again, would we get the same results?
- Collect a scoop or a handful of bears and graph them on paper. Colour in each box on the graph that represents the bears you collected (or physically put the bears on the graph). If you’re using a set of bears with 6 colours, I made this simple graph, free to download: Graphing Bears (6 Colours). If your set of bears only has 5 colours, fill in the colours yourself on this blank graph: Graphing Bears (5 Colours_Blank).
- If you’d like to graph by size of bear, instead of colour, try this graph by First Grade Garden.