I love the feel of a handful of buttons sliding through my fingers. I love spreading the buttons out on the floor with my three year old, and watching as my six and nine year olds came to join in the fun. I’ve found its easier to use buttons on a carpet floor than on the table or a smooth surface, because they won’t go shooting around the place. Unless of course I want them to go shooting around, in which case a smooth floor is ideal. Here’s some different ideas for using a handful of buttons as an educational activity:
Drawing: Use buttons to make pictures. A line of green buttons can be the stem of a flower. Make circles and spirals of different colors. There’s no end to the possibilities! Buttons can be clued onto a stiff surface for art that can be kept pictures can be taken before a pattern is demolished.
Sorting: Sort by color, size, shape and number of holes. Make Venn diagrams either on paper or with some string laid out in circles.
Stacking: Try stacking buttons. You probably can’t make incredibly tall stacks, but little inch high stacks are impressive when they’re made out of buttons, and the experience of building stacks gives you a chance to really feel the shapes of the buttons. Some are concave, others convex. Some have little rims around them.
Vocabulary building: Talk about concave and convex buttons. Talk about transparent and translucent. Discuss the different colors of off-white buttons like pearl, cream, or ivory.
Target practice: Slide buttons across the room. Test the friction of different surfaces. Aim at a target. Or throw buttons! Put a couple of pieces of paper on the floor, step back, and try to hit the papers. Write numbers on the different papers and then call out math questions to direct which paper to throw at.
Beading: String buttons on thread. Some buttons have holes big enough for buttons to go on pipecleaners.
Multiplication practice: Sort buttons according to if they have two holes or four, and then count the number of holes while picking the buttons up on at a time… 2, 4, 6, 8….. Make sets of buttons – three per pipecleaner perhaps – and practice skip counting and multiplication with them. Make arrays and admire the multiplication.
Math challenges: Set up simple algebra challenges. Put one covered container out and give hints as to how many buttons are in it. For example: The container has twice as many buttons as one third of the buttons placed on top of it. Or stuffed Teddybear #1 is sitting on top of his button collection. He has 4 more than half the number of buttons Teddy #2 has. If Teddy #2 has six buttons, how many does Teddybear #1 have? Let the kids have turns setting up challenges for you.
Giving and following instructions: Have two people sitting with their backs to each other, each with a large handful of beads. One person describes a pattern he is making with the buttons and the other person tries to copy it based on what he is hearding. For example: “I’m taking my two largest buttons and putting them next to one another. Beneath that I’m making a horizontal row of little white buttons. Underneath that is a second row, this time alternating white and colored buttons.” Afterwards compare pictures.
Measurement practice: With a sensitive scale, measure a handful of buttons. Then count the buttons and figure out the weight of the average button (or of a group of 10 buttons). Take a different handful of buttons, weigh it and guess how many are in it. Count and compare.
Make ten rows of ten buttons. How do their lengths compare? What is the lenth of the longest row you can make with ten buttons, and what is the length of shortest row? Write down the lengths of the rows and discuss the difference between the mean, median and range.
Sewing practice: Learn to sew buttons and buttonholes by hand.
Play strategy games: Try Nims.