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Counting Collections from the First Day of School

Posted by admin on Aug 4, 2022 8:00:00 AM

In the final blog of our Stenhouse Summer Series, first grade teacher, Bitsy Parks, writes about how she gets started with Counting Collections on the very first day of school (and even before!).


“One, two, three, four…” I watch my new students, sitting in our meeting circle with me on their first day of first grade. Some are following along, nodding their head with the count while others participate by counting aloud as I pull one lollipop after another from a jar. When all the lollipops are laid out and counted, some kids cheer, shout “yes!” or start asking if they get to eat one. “What is our total?” I ask the group.

“28!” they respond, sort of in unison.

“I’m wondering if there is a way we could group these lollipops to make counting them easier…does anyone have an idea?” Students offer different ideas and some even move the lollipops around to show different groupings.

And so it continues that we dig into our first Counting Collection of the school year, with me prompting students with questions and them peppering back responses. After we group the collection a couple of different ways together as a class, I invite students to count their own collection. I hand out a cup of buttons to each child and off they go.

The first day of math workshop is full of possibilities and opportunities. From the very first day of school, my students learn that writing workshop is a time to make books and that reading workshop is a time to play with our language and read. Similarly, I want them to know right away that math workshop is a time in which we explore and count. I also want students to know from the very first day of school that our class is a place for trying out ideas, playing, talking, and having fun. A first day Counting Collection is the perfect fit to introduce all these ideas.

Estimating with Families

estimaton jar

I start the first Counting Collection even before the first day of school at our “Meet the Teacher” event where families stop by to drop off supplies, see the classroom and meet me. At this event I include a Counting Collection (estimation) jar and ask families to help their child make an estimation. I love seeing students get support from parents and siblings to make this first estimation. Some parents offer lots of number insight (“Let’s count the ones we can see to get an idea.”) while others are happy encouraging their child to come up with on their own idea (“Write your guess. One hundred? Wow, ok, finish up the paper.”). Students write their name and estimation on a paper and leave the paper in the basket. Sometimes parents and siblings leave an estimation paper too!

Revisiting our Estimations

In the afternoon of this first day of school, when I gather students around the rug to count the lollipops, I remind them of the estimations that they made just a few days ago, and tell them that today is the day to count! Before counting, I give each student their estimation paper. If a student didn’t attend Meet the Teacher they are given the opportunity to make an estimation and record it on a paper. I ask students to look at their paper and think about their number. Then I guide the class in making our first estimation graph. I ask students that have an estimation between one and ten to bring their estimation to the middle of the rug. I lay these papers in a column and these students inch back to their spot in the circle. Next, I ask for estimations between ten and twenty and lay these in a column next to the first one. This work continues in ranges of ten until I have all the papers. I briefly introduce the term “graph” and ask a few questions such as, “which column has the most estimations?”

estimation graph


It’s time to count! I pull out the lollipops in small handfuls and encourage students to count with me. I lay each lollipop down individually and pause to recount at each new handful that I pull out. When we have laid them all out, we restate the total, sometimes recount as a class or ask for volunteers to recount. We revisit the estimation paper graph and decide which estimation is the closest. I teach the students to make the champion wave and we all clap for them.

Off with Their Own Collections

Now, it’s their turn to count a collection! I give each child a cup of buttons and off they go. In the days ahead, we’ll count collections in partnerships, but for this first day I send them on their own to see what they do.

  • Will they naturally partner up?
  • How do they count? By ones? Groups of ten?
  • Do they spend the time sorting rather than counting?
  • Who is hesitant about counting or chooses to observe others rather than count their own collection?
  • And if given the option, how do they record this first Counting Collection.

I wander the room, helping, encouraging and kidwatching.

buttons with hand

buttons in cups


On this first day I might give students a paper to record their work. This recording sheet is mostly blank space so students can choose how to record. I love to see what they come up to show their thinking!

julias counting collection


At the end of this first workshop, we gather back on the rug for our workshop share. I talk about the amazing thinking that I noticed, and I may share a picture or two on the iPad/document camera or invite a student to share their thinking. I keep this circle short but have set the predictable routine that we will follow throughout our year of math workshop: interactive lesson, independent work, reflection circle. When I say goodbye to each child that day, I give them a lollipop to take home. It’s a sweet reminder of the fun they can look forward to in math workshop.

Looking Ahead

As Counting Collections and estimation jars become a regular part of our math workshop, the routine gets quicker and I can put more emphasis on the math, supporting and extending students’ thinking to meet their needs and nudging them forward in their mathematical understandings.

Counting Collections on the first day of school can be messy, noisy and a little wild, but they are also an engaging and insightful practice. On this first day Counting Collection we’ve had fun together and I’ve begun to learn some mathematical information about my new first graders such as:

  • How do students demonstrate one-to-one correspondence? (independent Counting Collection)
  • What does it sound like when students count? Are they saying number names in order? Repeating numbers? Skipping numbers? (Choral Counting and independent Counting Collection)
  • How do students organize their collection? (independent Counting Collection),
  • What understandings do students have around estimation and how close or far apart numbers are from one another? (when I call for estimation papers to make the graph)
  • How do students demonstrate interest in, confidence around and stamina for counting?
  • How do students record their Counting Collections (if I offer a recording paper)?

As I say goodbye at the end of the first day and see the students walking away with their lollipop, I take a deep breath and look ahead to our year of counting, problem solving, and fun!


About the Author

BitsyBitsy Parks has been teaching elementary school for over twenty years. She is currently a first grade teacher in Beaverton, Oregon where she finds joy in nurturing a love of learning in young students. She is an adjunct instructor at Lewis & Clark College and is a regular contributor to Choice Literacy. You can connect with Bitsy on Instagram @bitsyparks_edu and on Twitter @bitsyparks.




Topics: Classroom practice, Relationships, Professional Development