Teaching Place Value for Preschoolers

by Meghan

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“…27, 28, 29… Mom, what comes after 29?”

This became a recurring conversation with Big M (age 4) over the holidays. She has mastered counting to 20, and quickly caught on to the pattern thereafter. When she starts asking repetitive questions on a subject, I like to seize on her enthusiasm.  Last Spring, when she was fascinated by the calendar, we made a DIY Weekly Magnet Calendar. So now, seizing her interest in the subject, I created a simple, printable book for teaching place value including numbers from 1 to 100.  And we cheaped out on counters by using colored pasta!

Teaching Place Value - A Printable Number Book to teach tens, units

Teaching Place Value with Pasta

Math manipulatives and counters can be super expensive – but they don’t have to be.  Most of the tools we use for counting, sorting, patterning and other math activities come from the Dollar Store or my kitchen pantry! For our first lesson in teaching place value, I colored half a box of Ditalini pasta to use with my printable number book.

Making Place Value Pasta

For Thanksgiving, Big M made friendship necklaces at preschool with colored pasta they made with hand sanitizer!  It smelled so much better than my traditional vinegar and food coloring method, so I decided to try it.  It is super easy, dries very quickly, smells better, and produces vibrant colors.

To color the pasta, you will need:

You can get the complete directions by visiting The Connection We Share.

Teaching Place Value

To teach place value to your preschooler, you will need a few more supplies in addition to you colored pasta counters.


Colored ditalini, sorted by color
Pipe cleaners
PGPB Printable Number Book: I can make numbers! 1-100

Cost: Less than $5
Prep Time: 15 minutes active time (1-2 hours to allow pasta to dry)
Clean-Up Time: Less than 5 minutes

Teach Place Value to your preschooler with FREE printable number book and colored pasta

Download your printable number book right from our printable store below!

Number Book: I Can Make Numbers!

My number book contains 36 pages, covering numbers 1-20, tens through 100, with a few additional numbers along the way, and three final pages to practice writing numbers 1-30. I put our pages in a notebook with plastic sheet protectors, like we used with our Alphabet Cards because I know Big M likes to revisit activities.  She used Crayola Dry Erase Markers to write numbers (numerically and alphabetically), then used the pasta to depict each number in units, then tens and units.

Teaching Place Value for Preschool - I Can Make Numbers 1 - 100

After representing each number in units, we swapped out 10 units for a ten.  She helped me make the tens by threading 10 pieces of pasta on a pipe cleaner.

Teaching Place Value - Tens and Units with Free Printable Number Book

Want more Math Ideas for Kids?

For more awesome hands-on learning ideas for preschoolers, be sure to check out ABCs and 123s, our latest collaborative ebook, featuring 40+ ideas to teach the alphabet and math skills through play!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our latest series, Architecture & Engineering for Preschool which just kicked off last week!  You can find these, and all our favorite STEM activities for kids on our STEM boards on Pinterest: Math, Engineering & Science.

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Teaching Place Value - Free Printable Number Book to Teach Your Preschooler Place Value with Pasta

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Emma January 11, 2016 - 6:41 pm

I love the idea of colored pasta as math counters! A great idea for some hands-on learning!

PGPBMeghan January 13, 2016 - 6:09 am

Thanks, Emma! It was so easy to make, I’m sure you will be seeing it again 🙂


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