Math at Home is now Early Math Counts! Visit our new website!

Counting Our Collections With a Five Frame

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Over here at the Ginkgo Tree House, we are quite intentional about setting up math environments that don’t scream MATH CENTER. We try to have authentic materials that are fun to touch and play with and then we sneak in materials that will create deep math investigations all on their own. Children learn math at their own pace by using many different skill sets that don’t always come in a specific order. So we give them lots of options to let the learning come in their own unique style. By keeping it playful and hands on, we set them up for math success.

The new math that is being taught in schools is actually quite wonderful. I’ve watched my own grandchildren gobbling it up because it makes so much sense and there are so many ways to reach the correct answer. They use ten frames a lot! So what is a ten frame?10frame

Ten frames are equal-sized rectangular boxes in a row where each box is large enough to hold a counter.

5capThe five frame is arranged in a 1-by-5 design.

Five and ten frames allow students to physically place items, each within a single box, to create a visual representation for numbers from 0-10 to help students visualize given numbers in a set. This creates a strong foundation for math computation in the years to come. There are endless ways to create a ten frame, from egg cartons, cups and tape to chalk on the sidewalk—to name a few.

I love wooden ten frames, but they are ridiculously expensive. I have blogged before about my love for mancala boards. I have been finding mancala boards at thrift shops and yard sales for years. We have a collection that we use for playful math. This year, I had the grand idea of taping the ends of our mancala boards to create ten frames! Tada!

tableofframes Yes, yes, I was feeling quite giddy. But I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

So I cut them down. Yikes! What? I know, I know, but it’s that good, strong foundation we talked about in the last blog. So,I did it. I cut the mancala board into a ten frame!

8capframe Then I realized with my group, five frames would be even better because we currently have a boatload of two-year-olds in our program. With a five frame, students are using smaller set sizes that are within their developmental counting range. Five frames expose our early learners to a tool that they will recognize in the academic world. Incorporating a five frame into their collection play sets them up for future math wizardry. By now, I was a bit saw happy, so I created a three frame to use with subitizing and a two frame and a one frame for one-to-one correlation. Remember, we are young and we are keeping this developmentally appropriate for the youngest in our program.

And, finally, we brought in our collections from last week! Voila! Math play.


While your children are playing with their collections and frames, you can mentor the counting by putting a counter in each square of the frame and saying, “One, Two, Three, Four, Five—you have five buttons.” When a child counts, “1,2,3,4,5 buttons,” knowing that the last number represents the number of buttons in the collection, that is known as cardinality. It’s a school standard for kindergarten. Your child just thinks it is fun.

Just a reminder, we are keeping it fun. Playful math. Developmentally appropriate. It might look like this:Eframe2

It’s a great foundation for future academic success! Let the fun begin!


Here are our book recommendations for this week!

Do your children play with ten frames? Share your ideas with all of us! I know that many of us have a love/hate relationship with math. But, trust me, this new math is going to change all that for our children. It’s good! Really, really good!


Diann Gano is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

21 Replies to “Counting Our Collections With a Five Frame”

  1. Love your use of natural and common household items. What a great way to set a foundation for math as well as vocabulary for early learners!

    1. Agree great use of objects around household also great way of learning math vocabulary.

  2. I love this idea! I have an old mancala game set that I never use anymore and it’ll be a great and organized way for my little ones to be fully engaged in one-to-one counting! Also, fun to see them playing with one of my old toys. 🙂

  3. I love the idea of separating the five frame allowing for construction and deconstruction of numbers! Play is learning.

  4. I like the five frame and ten frames and how you separated them, even for the young learners. I loved how you taped the frames to the tables so the children can play with them.

  5. I love the use of loose parts in the counting frames. We use a generic number frame to go along with our themes.

  6. actually I’m am astonished, I had this 10 frame in my classroom closet cause I had no idea how to use it or what to do with it, now I know and will be pulling it out of the closet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: