Cupcake Math: It’s a Piece of Cake!

In this pretend baking and crafting activity, children will explore counting objects up to 20 while decorating adorable paper cupcakes.

Pretend cooking activities can be a great way for young children to practice early math, develop fine motor skills, expand their creativity, develop vocabulary, follow directions and become more independent. In this pretend baking and crafting activity, children will explore counting objects up to 20 while decorating adorable paper cupcakes.

A green and blue paper cutout shaped like a cupcake decorated with google eyes, sequins, paper clips and rubber bands.
A finished cupcake. | Yesenia Prieto

Learning Goal

This activity will help your child:

  • Count to tell the number of objects in a group
  • Use the numbers counted to answer the question “How many?”
  • Follow directions
  • Practice fine motor skills

Materials

  • 2 Pieces of paper for the base and top of the cupcake (a paper plate, empty cereal box or other thin cardboard also works)
  • “Toppings” (e.g. sequins, buttons, dry beans, etc.) to make up a total of 20 small objects: a set of 2, a set of 4, a set of 6 and a set of 8. Example: 2 buttons, 4 paper clips, 6 beads, 8 dry beans
  • 4 Small containers for collecting objects
  • A Large flat surface for sorting and counting
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. First, lay all of the “toppings” out on a large flat surface.

A pink piece of paper covered with assorted small items including google eyes, rubber bands, paper clips, buttons, seeds and sequins.
The “toppings” can be almost anything you want. The more colorful, the better. | Yesenia Prieto

2. Ask your child to help sort and count the objects as you put each set into its own container. Encourage your child to count out loud.

A piece of pink paper covered in small objects including sequins, paper clips and more surrounded by 4 colorful bowls filled with more of each of the items.
Sorting the “toppings” is a good way to practice early math skills. | Yesenia Prieto

3. Now that you have all your ingredients ready, ask your child to draw the base of the cupcake on one sheet of paper and the top of the cupcake on another sheet of paper.

Two pieces of paper, one pink and one orange, with the top and bottom parts of a cupcake drawn on them.
A cupcake in the making. | Yesenia Prieto

4. Help your child cut the pieces out and glue or tape them together to make the cupcake.

Composite of 4 images explaining the process of cutting out a cupcake's top and bottom shapes and pasting them together
The cupcake comes together. | Yesenia Prieto

5. Once the cupcake is ready, it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients! Start with the ingredient with the largest number. Ask your child, “Which group has the most? Can you help me count how many beans there are?”  Encourage your child to touch the beans when counting.

Four colorful bowls filled with items sorted by type including rubber bands, seeds, paper clips, buttons and sequins
Counting out loud is a great way to practice one-to-one correspondence. | Yesenia Prieto

Tip: Moving and touching objects as they count helps children understand that numbers correspond to specific quantities. This principle of counting is known as one-to-one correspondence. 

6. After you know how many beans you have, ask your child to glue them to the cupcake.

7. Continue to add your toppings! You can model this by counting out loud as you add the toppings. “Now we are going to add six beads … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6! 6 beads.”

Keep the Conversation Going

Colorful cupcake shapes made out of paper and decorated with colorful sequins, rubber bands, buttons, google eyes and paper clips.
The finished cupcakes. | Yesenia Prieto

Try this activity using real ingredients! Decorate your cupcake with sprinkles, M&M’s or/and chocolate chips.

Book Suggestions

  • “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke
  • “Too Many Tamales” by Gary Soto

Head Start Framing or CCSS-M: Pre-K-1

  • This activity covers CCSM-M cardinality and counting, recognize how number works.

Related Stories from PBS SoCal:

— A Fun Pirate-Inspired Fruit Salad Recipe That Helps Children Practice Math Skills
— Make a Colorful Stick Puppet to Learn about Shapes and Problem Solving
— Make Fun Crafts While Counting, Measuring and Weighing Objects With Your Little Ones (Watch How-To Videos in English & Spanish)