Exploring More and Less with Objects

Recommended for: Toddlers

Materials Needed:

  • Two small bowls or boxes of the same size
  • Small objects found around the house (hair barrettes, legos, crayons, buttons, keys, coins, toothpicks, clothespins, bracelets, etc.)

Developmental Goals:

  • Encourage curiosity and problem solving.
    Promote the understanding of more or less in terms of quantity.
    Assist in the use of mathematical vocabulary such as more, less, greater than, less than, larger, smaller and same.
    In the Future:
  • The process of making informed guesses about what will happen is a key piece to the process of science that children will need throughout their school life.
  • By first understanding the concept of more or less, children are building prior knowledge for the understanding of volume and conservation (that objects don’t change in volume when transferred from one container to another).


There are two ways to think about more or less, either looking at objects or containers. For toddlers, its best to start with the object comparison. Think about the items and ask which container has more or fewer items than another container?

Thinking about the objects:

  1. Give your child two containers that are the same size.
  2. Ask her to pour some of the chosen objects into one container and some into the other.
  3. Ask her which container she thinks has more (or fewer) objects?
  4. As you are playing, encourage your child to investigate by asking, “I wonder if there is another way we can decide which container has more buttons?”
  5. She can then come with a strategy on their own, such as lining both sets of objects up, counting each set of objects or stacking each object.

Be sure to keep it fun and act as investigators. There is no need for a “right” answer at this stage. What’s more important is that your child is beginning to understand that not all amounts are the same.

Educare Chicago Early Math Initiative