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Do the Twist: 5 Fun and Easy Kids Math Activities With Craft Pipe Cleaners

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After just one look through our art supplies box, my preschooler found a few pipe cleaners from a long-ago craft, and next thing you know, they had twisted them into magnifying glasses and were going on a treasure hunt around the house.

Having objects that children can touch and handle is a great way to learn math concepts. As the National Association for the Education of Young Children explains, "Early math is not about the rote learning of discrete facts like how much 5 + 7 equals, but rather, it's about children actively making sense of the world around them." We can set up these everyday learning experiences at home with simple objects, such as art supplies.

Here are five simple pipe cleaner activities to practice classification, shape identification, counting, patterns and spatial sense.

1. Make Numbers!

several colorful pipe cleaners are twisted into the numbers 8, 6, 2 and 5
Pipe cleaners are easy for kids to twist into numbers. | Stephanie Murray

Some children learn from manipulatives, objects they can touch and play with that represent a concept. Pipe cleaners are great manipulatives! Have children bend the wires to form different numbers from one to nine. Arrange and rearrange the numbers in order. For younger kids, have them identify one or two numbers. For older children, talk about which is the greater number of two options.

2. Design Shapes!

Closeup of a small child's hands as they shape craft pipe cleaners into different shapes like triangles and circles.
With a few simple twists, pipe cleaners turn into shapes. | Stephanie Murray

Simple twists, bends and curves of pipe cleaners easily become geometric shapes. Help children make simple shapes like triangles, circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds and ovals. You might make the shape first, then help your child make it too. Then, have fun making patterns with the shapes, like triangle, circle, triangle, circle!

3. Find Shapes Around the House

After you make different pipe cleaner shapes, go on a shape hunt! For example, curve the pipe cleaner into a circle. Then, travel around the house to find many different circular objects to match. Use phrases like "under, over, above, below" to help support kids' spatial sense. For example, "This circle bowl is on top of the counter."

4. Make a Pipe Cleaner Magnifying Glass

two craft pipe cleaners bent to resemble the shape of magnifying glasses are on a table next to several small toys.
Stephanie Murray

Twist your pipe cleaner into a circle with a handle to make your explorer a magnifying glass. Then, use this new imaginary tool to investigate things closer. Walk around the house looking for shapes and make careful observations about toys by describing their attributes, what makes them stand out, and what makes them similar to other items. You can ask your child to compare which is bigger or smaller or what shapes they see in household objects.

5. Sort Colors and Make Bracelets

Twist the pipe cleaners into bracelets by wrapping them in circles. Talk about how the bracelets of multiple colors can make patterns. You might consider making bracelets for friends or siblings.

Having fun, real-world encounters with math can be easy and inexpensive. Once you try these activities, see how your family's imagination and math skills can take shape as you twist and bend more pipe cleaners!

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