At Math On-A-Stick, we have several plastic bins full of colorful plastic eggs, and a large collection of bulk egg trays—each with five rows of six egg cups. They are very popular with the young ones.
When young children approach the eggs table, it is clear to them that it would be fun to put the eggs in the trays. The first thing they usually want to do is fill a tray, and they generally do it without concern for color or the order of the egg cups.
If they persist, they get new ideas, and their play becomes more complicated. Some examples:
- Fill a tray with their favorite color
- Fill a tray row-by-row
- Make a pattern, such as red-blue-red-blue
- Make a letter, such as the first letter of their name
- Combine different-color egg halves
- Count the eggs that fit in one tray
- Put eggs in the spaces between the eggs, creating a second or third layer of eggs
These activities give children experience with some important mathematical ideas. Children playing with eggs develop a bit of expertise with things that are central to the work of mathematicians, including:
- Sorting by chosen attributes (e.g. color, which end is pointing up, or whether the eggs are whole)
- Making and identifying patterns
- Arranging objects in space
Colorful plastic eggs and bulk egg cartons are easily obtained at low cost with a quick internet search (but only from different sources, surprisingly). With a little more effort, you can probably find a restaurant or commercial kitchen that will give you their used egg cartons for free.
photo credits: gesturing girl, Rochelle Milbraith; blue and pink egg pattern, Susan Ingvalson