As a mom of preschoolers, I’m always on the hunt for the trifecta of activities – one that provides learning opportunities, makes little to no mess, and is engaging enough to buy me some time to enjoy my coffee, read a chapter or two of my book, or get small tasks done around the house. Some of my kids’ recent favorite activities include these counting bears that are surprisingly versatile! Below are five ways we use them for learning and fun, incorporating items you probably already have at home.
No list could be complete without listing their namesake purpose – counting! A fun way to do this is to use dice. Roll the dice, and have your child count the dots and count out the corresponding number of bears. You can take it up a notch and incorporate early math as well, for example – “You have two bears, and your sister has four bears. How many bears are there when they play together?”
The rainbow of colors that the bears come in provides a great lesson in sorting and grouping. We use old rainbow-hued bowls from IKEA, but pieces of construction paper or paper with colored circles drawn on them would work great. Have your child sort the container of bears into their respective colors. Sounds too easy, but you will be surprised at how into it your kids get! Add an extra level of challenge by having them use tongs to pick up the bears, instead of their fingers. This helps strengthen the muscles they’ll need for pencil grasping and writing!
Take a piece of blank paper and draw various lines across the page – straight, zig zag, curves. Have your child line the bears up along the marks. This helps them grasp left-to-right progression, helping prepare them for reading down the line. You can also turn this into another sorting activity by making each line correspond to a color of bear – put blue bears on the blue line, etc. I’ve been drawing a big rainbow and my girls line the bears up along the respective colored arches!
Create patterns for your child to identify and continue. For example, “Red, blue, yellow, orange. Red, blue, yellow, what do you think comes next?” As they get the hang of it, they can start building their own patterns and turning it more into independent play. It’s fun to watch when the pattern “clicks” and they understand it!
This is great for outdoor time – we set up a bin on our deck, fill it with water, and dump in the bears. I went to Dollar Tree and grabbed an assortment of small ladles, slotted spoons, and measuring cups to store in the bin, but you can use any items you already have on hand that allow the bears to be transferred around! They scoop the bears out of the bin using the various tools. You can mix it up by adding soap or bubble bath, food coloring, or water beads to make it even more exciting.