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Family Math Activity: Practice Place Value at Playtime!

In this fun family math game, children will explore place value by putting together and breaking down numbers into “tens” and “ones.”
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Esta actividad también está disponible en español.

As children develop an understanding of numbers and how quantities change, they begin to gain foundations for place value. Developing an understanding of place value in the early years helps them gain problem-solving skills and deep mathematical knowledge. In this fun family math game, children will explore place value by putting together and breaking down numbers into “tens” and “ones.”

A sheet of paper divided in two columns with the headings "tens" and "ones" with beads, pipe cleaners, pieces of string and a marker on top of it.
Learning about place value can be fun with this easy to make chart. | Yesenia Prieto

First, let’s review two key terms: “digits” and “place value.” A digit is a single numerical symbol, from zero to 9, used to make numerals (or numbers). For example, the numeral 15 is made up of two digits (“1” and “5”). Place value is the value represented by a digit based on its position in a numeral. For example, in numeral 15, 1 is in the “tens” place, which means it represents 10 units and 5 is in the “ones” place, which means it represents five units. This concept can be particularly difficult for young children to understand since they see the world in concrete terms.

Learning Goals

  • Understand that numbers are symbols and represent real things
  • Use objects to compose and decompose numbers into "tens" and "ones"
  • Record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g. 10 + 5 = 15)
  • Practice recognizing numbers, counting and one-to-one correspondence
A sheet of paper divided in two columns with the headings "tens" and "ones" with beads, pipe cleaners, pieces of string and a marker on top of it.
All you need for this activity is a piece of paper, pipe cleaners, beads, and a marker. | Yesenia Prieto


  • Place value chart (you can draw your own place value chart on a piece of paper; simply divide the paper into two columns and write “tens” on the left column and “ones” on the right column)
  • One die (here’s a video on how to make one out of paper)
  • Pipe cleaners (or straws, string, etc.)
  • Beads or another item that can be strung onto the pipe cleaners (e.g., cereal loops)
  • Paper and pencil

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Review the features of the die with your child and explain what number each side of the die represents.
  2. Roll the die and bring that many beads into the “ones” column.
  3. If the “ones” column reaches 10 or more beads, group the beads into a set of 10 by stringing 10 beads onto a pipe cleaner. Now place the pipe cleaner with the 10 beads in the “tens” column.
  4. After each roll, count the number of objects in the “tens” and “ones” columns and write or draw the number equation on a piece of paper (e.g., 1 in the “tens” column is 10 and 2 in the “ones” column is 2, 10 + 2=12).
  5. Continue rolling the die and writing out the equation. The goal of the game is to reach the number 20.

Keep the Conversation Going

  • As you play the game, ask your child questions that prompt math understanding (e.g., “How many beads do you have? How many more do you need to make a group of 10? Can you tell me how you know that?). 
  • You can also use the place value chart to demonstrate numbers 11-19 are composed of 10 ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

Book Suggestions

  • “The Chicken Problem” by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
  • “A Fair Bear Share” by Stuart J. Murphy

Online Games

Curious George Museum of Tens

Head Start Framing or CCSS-M: K

Work with numbers 11-19 to gain foundations for place value. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.NBT.A.1

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