Eggs are inexpensive and come packaged in math.
I love eggs in cartons so much for math play that they feature prominently in my counting book How Many?. Here are a bunch of ways I’ve found to play with eggs and cartons and math. Enjoy! (Note: some children have egg allergies; if this applies to your home, see the very end of this post for some ideas.)
In elementary school math, an array is any rectangular arrangement of things in rows and columns. Arrays are useful for thinking about multiplication. If multiplication is about groups, so that 6 x 2 means “6 groups of 2”, then an egg carton array shows why “2 groups of 6” has to be the same number.
Cartons with missing eggs are a fabulous bridge to mathematical sophistication. If the carton is almost full with just one missing egg, do you need to count them one-by-one or can you know that there are 11 straight away?
This next carton has seven eggs. Do you see 4+3? Can you also see 5+2? What about two 3’s and one more?
The carton structures the eggs and gives you lots of opportunity for creative math vision.
With just a little bit of work (and not much expense), you can find eggs in other arrays. Two by three, three by six, and five by six are all common in grocery stores. If you’re lucky, you might find a three by four egg carton at a farmers market, or a three by eight of tiny quail eggs at a fancy grocery store.
If you collect a few interesting egg cartons (the 5 by 6 ones are especially recommended here), your next step could be to buy a bunch of plastic easter eggs at a craft store—get a bunch of different colors, and maybe a bin to store them in. Then turn the children loose making designs and patterns and making up new games.
We have dozens of cartons and bins of plastic eggs at Math On-A-Stick, where the eggs are one of the more popular activities for the youngest children, but also a good time for school aged kids.
I hope you and the children in your life have as much fun with eggs in cartons as my family has over the years.
Note on egg allergies: I know this is a thing, and it’s got to be difficult. Of course, photos such as those on this website, or in my book How Many? are safe for everyone, But you also want to get your hands on things and make stuff yourself. In that case, you probably want to find some plastic eggs, and some cartons that have never been used for eggs.
If you get friendly with a farmer with chickens, you can probably strike a deal for a couple unused cartons, and they are not very expensive to buy online (although you’ll end up with a LOT of cartons!) If your search fails, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org); I have a few I can send your way for the price of shipping.