Exploring More and Less with Containers

Recommended for: Preschoolers

Materials Needed:

  • Several small bowls or boxes of various sizes
  • 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 start thinking about more or less, by thinking about the objects or the containers they are put in. Preschoolers are ready to understand the concept of container’s capacity.

Thinking about the containers:

  1. Ask your child to pour a set of objects into a container.
  2. Give him a different sized container.
  3. Ask him if he thinks the new container will hold more, less, or the same amount of objects.
  4. Have him pour the contents from the first container into the second container.
  5. Repeat this process several times with a variety of sized containers.
  6. As your child is transferring objects from one container to another, you can ask him questions such as “why do you think the objects didn’t fit into this new container?” or “I wonder why the new container has so much more space left than the first container did?”
  7. 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 containers hold the same amount.

Contributor: Educare Chicago Early Math Initiative