Math at Home Math Access for Teachers
and Home Child Care Providers

CME Group Community Foundation



A Cat Quandary

Children will use objects, pictures and numbers to play out scenarios that involve addition and subtraction.

Content Area Standard Target
  • Numbers and Operations
  • Algebra
  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another
  • Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates
  • Understand numbers, ways of representing number, relationships among numbers, and number systems
  • Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships
  • Count with understanding and recognize "how many" in sets of objects
  • Understand the effects of adding and subtracting whole numbers
  • Develop and use strategies for whole-number computations, with a focus on addition and subtraction
  • Develop fluency with basic number combinations for addition and subtraction
  • Model situations that involve the addition and subtraction of whole numbers, using objects, pictures and symbols
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials
  • The book, Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.
  • Individual papers (one for every child in your group) cut out in the shape of a basic house. Make sure that they are large enough so that the house can be used as a work mat and 15 to 20 Teddy Bear counters can fit in the house.
  • 15 to 20 Teddy Bear Counters for each child. If you do not have the Teddy Bear counters, any type of counters will do.
  • An apron or a sign you have made that represents Mrs. McTats. 
  • Cat ears or pictures of cats to represent each of the cats.

Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the Activity
  1. Introduce the book. Show the cover and ask the children if they are good pretenders. Explain that today they are going to act out the story of Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats and that you need a volunteer to play Mrs. McTats.  Have the volunteer come up and sit in a chair next to you. If you have decided to use props, give the prop to the Mrs. McTats volunteer.
  2. Read the story. Pause each time a cat is added to the story. When the book reads, "She lived all alone except for one cat," Ask: "What do we need to add to our story? "  (a cat) "Who would like to be a cat?"  Have a volunteer come up and sit next to Mrs. McTats. If you have decided to use cat ears or pictures, give the cat the prop you are using.
  3. Continue reading the story, adding a cat, or cats each time the story adds more cats. Pause to ask the total of cats each time one or more cats is added. When the book reads, "I’m sure I’ve got room for just two more cats,"
    Ask: "Mrs. McTats had 1 cat. Now 2 more cats have come to live in her home.  How many cats does she have now?" (3)  "2 + 1 = 3"
  4. As the pattern continues in the book, ask the children to predict how many cats are going to enter the house each time Mrs. McTats enters the house. Continue acting out the story as you read the book. At the end of the book ask, "How many cats does Mrs. McTats have living in her house now?"
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Explain to the children that now they are going to pretend to be Mrs. McTats. Give each child a sheet of paper that has the blank house on it and ask them to decorate his/her home. Do not spend a lot of time allowing the children to decorate as it is not the purpose of this lesson.
  2. Distribute the Teddy Bear counters (or other counters if you are not using the Teddy Bears as counters). Ask the children to pretend that these counters are cats. I think we can pretend these teddy bears are cats, don’t you?"
  3. Read the book again.  This time, the children will add the “cats” to their house instead of acting out the story. 
  4. Model what the children are to do when they hear that cats are being added to the house. When book reads, "In a small, cozy cottage lived Mrs. McTat, she lived all alone, except for one cat,” At this point display your own mat and model the actions that the children are to make. Ask: “How many cats should we begin with?” (one) Say: “Okay, let’s all add 1 cat to our homes." "Now listen carefully to the story and let me know when we should add more cats to our house.”
  5. Continue reading and pausing throughout to make sure that the children are adding the correct number of cats.  Each time Mrs. McTats adds cats, Ask: “How many cats does Mrs. McTats have in her house?”  (the number you last counted, 3)  Say: “Ok. Now she wants to add 2 more cats. Everyone add 2 cats to your homes.  Ask: Now how many cats does Mrs. McTats have?”  (5)  “Yes, 3 + 2 = 5.  Mrs. McTats had 3 cats, 2 more came to live with her and now she has 5 cats."
  6. When the story is finished, Ask: “Now how many cats does Mrs. McTats have living in her home?”  “I’d like you now to draw the number of cats that are living in Mrs. McTats home, in your home.  For each counter that represents a cat, draw a cat in your house.”  Suggest that instead of taking all of the “cat” counters off of the mat all at once, take a counter off and as they do, draw a cat. Then, take another counter off the mat and draw a cat.  This reinforces one-to-one correspondence.

Additional Extensions

  • Children can pair up and tell the story with a partner, one person telling the story while the other partner adds the counters to his/her mat. 
  • Some children will easily be able to predict what will happen next – 2 more cats.  Skip several pages ahead in the book and ask what they predict will happen.  Or retell the story skip counting by 3s, 4s or even 10s.
  • Provide an extra piece of paper and have the children write the numerical equations as you read the book and add cats as the book continues.  Continue to model and emphasize operations.  For example, when you are adding 2 cats to the 3 cats that are already on the mat, write and say 3 + 2 = 5.  Ensure that the number sentence corresponds with their actions.
  • Retell the story backwards, using subtraction.  “Mrs. McTats had 16 cats living in her house, 2 cats went to live with their grandma.  How many cats are now living at Mrs. McTat’s house?"  The children will start with 16 counters on their mat and continue taking away cats until there is only 1 cat left.  Again, model and emphasize operations (16 minus 2 equals 14.  16 – 2 = 14.)
Encourage vocabulary Encourage Vocabulary
  • Add – Increase in amount or number (e.g., "How many cats should we add to our homes?")
  • How many – The total or sum (e.g., "How many cats does Mrs. McTats have in her house now?")
  • Predict – To guess what will happen next (e.g., "Can you predict what will happen when you hear a scratching at the door? Can you predict how many cats will be at Mrs. McTat’s door?")
  • Plus  The addition of (e.g. "Two plus two equals four.")
  • Equals  To be the same in number or amount (e.g., "When we have 1 cat plus 2 more cats the amount equals 3 cats.")

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

Toddlers may:

  • Not have one-to –one correspondence.
  • Have difficulty recognizing the number pattern of the book.
  • Require step by step modeling.
Vertical line

Pre-K Children may:

  • Understand the easier number patterns (counting by 2).
  • Be able to write and understand number sentences (3 + 2 = 5).
  • Have a working knowledge of addition of numbers 0-10.

Home child care providers may:

  • Provide assistance in choosing the appropriate numbers of counters to add to their mat.
  • Remind children of what happened previously in the book and ask leading questions. “Remember, the last time there was a scratch at the door, 2 cats wanted to come in.  Now there is another scratch at the door. How many cats do you think want to come in?”
  • Do the activity alongside of the children on a big piece of chart paper or a felt board.


Home child care providers may:

  • Provide a variety of counting patterns for the children to identify (counting by 5s, 3s, 10s).
  • Allow the children to work in pairs with their counting mats and counters. Providing a series of number sentences or having one partner retell the story, the child may be able to work independently without step-by-step modeling.
  • Reinforce addition by giving the children subtraction problems.  Retell the book backwards and allow the children to take away a given number of counters on the counting mat. “If Mrs. McTat had 9 cats and 2 went home.  How many cats would still be at Mrs. McTat’s house?” 


Books Books
  • Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (New York: Aladdin, 2001)
  • Counting Crocodiles by Judy Sierra (New York: Harcourt Children’s Books, 1997)
  • Hippos Go Berserk!  by Sandra Boynton (New York: Little Simon, 2000)
Music and movement Music and Movement
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • Indoors or outdoors, this would be a fun activity with stuffed animals. The children can act out the book with their stuffed animals that they bring from home. Change the text to correspond with the stuffed animal. Take pictures and make a class book. For example: “Ms. Forsman and Her Classroom Full of Animals.”  Under each picture – a photo of a child with their stuffed animals at the door – the children can write the number sentence that corresponds with the photo.  At the end of the class photo book there can be a class photo of all of the children and teachers with their stuffed animals and a final total number underneath the photo.


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