Post by Contributing Writer Amy
Learning numbers is more fun when you get to dig for them! I love to use birdseed in our sand and water table outside (Yay spring!) because birdseed comes in a large bag for a reasonable price. Spills are no problem either, as one of my girls announced, “The squirrels and birds can be our vacuum cleaner!” :) Before doing any directed activity with the birdseed, just give the kids some scoops, funnels, or cups and they will stay busy for a long time! While they are busy playing, you can get all your supplies ready for the mystery number dig.
First, find a set of numbers 0-9 you already have in your house. They may be from a number puzzle, magnetic numbers, or foam bath numbers. I chose magnetic numbers.
Next, I put number stickers in the cups of two muffin tins to help when they counted out the objects they found in the seeds.
The last thing you need is the objects to dig for! Think of your kids’ toys and games as well as craft supplies that have at least 20 pieces you can bury in the birdseed. We used muffins from this game, wooden beads from this activity, Lego Duplos, and little dinosaurs. Craft pom-poms, crayons, or small blocks would all work great, too.
I did 13 as the first “Mystery Number” since my kiddos really seem to struggle with numbers past 12. I counted out 13 dinosaurs with magnetic numbers 1 and 3, then dumped them into the seeds. I was careful to cover them all up so they couldn’t see anything sticking out of the birdseed.
You may need to show them how to put the objects in the muffin tins, then it’s time to dig away and find out the mystery number! The tins really helped them organize the objects to count easily without getting frustrated. It also helps kids get a sense of other math concepts such as an array of rows and columns. They may notice that one tin always holds 12 objects and that it has 4 rows of 3 and 3 columns of 4. This is laying a base for understanding multiplication and seeing numbers as groups.
After they have found all the objects, and figured out the mystery number, add some more objects, change the magnetic numbers you throw into the seed, cover them all up, and play again!
- The kids can take turns making the mystery number by putting objects into each cup of the muffin tin, choosing the correct numbers, and then dumping it all in the seed for you or a sibling to find. My girls loved this part and it was just as educational!
- For a competitive spin, use a timer to see how fast they can find all the objects and mystery number. If you have more than one child working, they can work together to beat their best time. Some kids would love it while it may stress out other kids. You know your kids, so do what works for them. :)
You should not have to buy anything other than birdseed for this activity and there is no waste! When you are done with it, you can use it to fill bird feeders, or make your own like this idea we are planning to try using spring cookie cutters. If they ever get enough of just playing in the birdseed, that is!
Amy is a former reading and third grade teacher as well as a mother to three little girls with big personalities. She believes joy can always be found in playing, learning, and ice cream.