I recently showed J tally marks and he was instantly interested in learning more. Thankfully, J is already a skip counting pro (even by obscure numbers like 12 - and yes, he's only five!), so the concept of tally marks was quickly understood by him. To reinforce his learning, I set up this super simple tally marks math tray. It was also a great preschool math tray for K to practice his counting.
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For this math tray, we used our giant homemade foam numbers and colored craft sticks. You could substitute any kind of number manipulatives that you have on hand. J is just particularly fond of these foam numbers, as I have mentioned before here, so I like to use them as much as we can for math activities.
The idea was for J to pick a number and count up to the number using tally marks, like below.
J has been exposed to tally marks in a variety of ways, including reading about them in this cute picture book called Tally O'Malley. So he started tallying with small numbers like 17 and 20.
J also did large numbers. Thankfully, not too large since he would have run out of craft sticks. Here he is making tally marks for the number 40.
Then J made sure to practice skip counting by fives to double check that he counted correctly, which, of course, he did.
K also joined in on this math tray, as I noted earlier. Obviously, he doesn't understand the concept of tally marks, nor should he at age 3, but I was happy to see him count out the correct number of craft sticks anyway.
Here are some other simple math activity trays for preschoolers and early elementary learners: