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Using Math Counters To Help Learning


Math counters are any small objects that kids can count or move around to help them work out simple math problems.

First and second graders are concrete thinkers, and counters will come in handy for all kinds of math work.

Counters come in all shapes and sizes. A few of the most common are:

Bear Counters.

Shaped like teddy bears, these multi-colored counters are beloved by kids and make math a lot more fun.

Animal Counters.

Like the bear counters, these come shaped like farm animals, jungle animals, bugs and even dinosaurs.

Two-Color Counters.

Red on one side and white or yellow on the other, you can drop a handful of these to practice addition, subtraction, or probability.

Inchworm Counters.

These snap together and are great for measuring.

Snap Cubes.

Also known as Unifix Cubes, these colorful counters snap together in rows. Handy for showing groups of tens, skip counting, etc.


Always a popular choice with kids, especially if they are real.

Poker Chips.

These usually come in three colors and are easy for small hands to work with.

Base Ten Blocks.

For problems involving larger numbers, these are great. bean countersYou can also use any objects that can be grouped into bundles of tens and hundreds along with some ones, like Q-tips or toothpicks.

Dried Beans.

The simplest kind of counter is dried beans—any kind will do. Cheap and easy to find.

Ideas for Using Math Counters


(Well, duh.)


Count out 5 of one color, and 9 of another color. Push them together and count your total as you say “5 plus 9 equals 14”.


To subtract 12-8, count out 12 counters. Put 8 in a cup. Count how many are left. Or practice subtracting from 10 with two-color counters. Drop 10 counters on the table. Separate the red ones into a pile. Count the white ones, then figure out how many red counters are in your pile.
place value counters

Practicing Place Value:

Count, add or subtract large numbers with place value counters.

Comparing Numbers:

Which is bigger: 12 or 21? Use counters to figure it out. Base Ten Blocks are a good choice for comparing big numbers.


Arrange counters in red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow. Continue the pattern. Some bear counters come in 3 sizes as well as different colors.

Arrays and Multiplication: Arrange counters in equal groups or put the same number in each cup to help kids understand multiplication concepts.

These are by no means the only ways to use counters, but it’ll get you started. It’s nice to have a few different kinds of math counters handy, to use for different kinds of activities and also to keep kids interested.

Click on the links or pictures below to buy bear counters, two-color counters, or magnetic foam numbers and counters.

Or, click here to browse a wider selection of math counters.

Smart First Graders