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Do math in a pizza box
What do you see when you open a pizza box? Pizza—typically, yes.
But in early childhood education—after the pizza has been eaten—you might see alphabet letters, counters, lotto cards, or any number of learning materials.
Pizza boxes can function well as containers throughout the classroom. They’re common, sturdy, and stackable. They come in several sizes and are easily handled by children.
This article describes learning activities in pizza boxes that are well suited for the manipulatives center. The activities can help children build a foundation in math, not to mention giving children practice in skills such as visual discrimination and eyehand coordination.
Each activity below is designed to be stored and used in a separate pizza box. Other activities—language, art, and blocks, for example —can also be housed in pizza boxes and used in those centers.
Prepare the pizza boxes
You can reuse pizza boxes, but be sure to clean them first. Other options are to ask your local pizza parlor to donate a few new boxes or buy them online from a restaurant supplier, such as ReStockIt.com.
Pizza boxes are often square and come in different sizes, such as 8inch, 12inch, and 16inch, and are 1 ½ inches high. Adjust the instructions in the activities below to fit the boxes you have.
If you use recycled or new pizza boxes with commercial printing on them, you may want to cover them with contact paper, using the instructions below.
Here’s what you need:
pizza box
contact paper, solid color or pattern
ruler
scissors
large selfadhesive address label
permanent marker
1. If using a recycled pizza box, clean it to remove food particles. Let it air dry.
2. Measure the contact paper, cut to fit the box, and apply.
3. Write the name of the activity on the label, and press the label on the front flap of the pizza box. To help preliterate children distinguish between the boxes, glue a picture on the label that represents the activity—a key on the key matching activity, for example.
Math activities
The activities below are appropriate for use with children 3 to 5 years old, unless otherwise noted. Consider ways that you can adapt or change the activities to suit the developmental needs of the children. You might write labels and number names in two languages, English and Spanish, for example.
Match the keys
Ask parents and friends to donate old metal keys, each unique. Matching activities help children recognize shapes and patterns.
Here’s what you need:
10 to 12 assorted keys, each different in size and shape (round and square heads, for example)
access to copy machine
glue or rubber cement
pizza box
1. Arrange the keys on a copy machine in a random manner and make a copy. Or lay the keys on a sheet of paper and outline them.
2. Glue the copied or outlined sheet of keys to the bottom of the pizza box.
3. Invite children to match the keys to their shapes in the box.
Clip in sequence
Collect large plastic clips ordinarily used to clip papers together, which you can find in office supply stores. Or use potatochip bag clips, which you can find in the grocery store. You can also use plastic springclip clothespins.
Here’s what you need:
9 large plastic clips of assorted colors
pizza box
1. Clip three clips in a color sequence (white, black, yellow, for example) to the bottom of the box, on the left side next to the side where the top folds down.
2. Invite children to continue the sequence along the front and right edges of the box.
Variation: Paint each upright edge of the box a different color. Invite children to attach the clips or clothespins to the matching color edge.
Match the color
Ask parents to save the caps from plastic bottles. Before using, wash the caps thoroughly, spray with a disinfectant bleach solution, and air dry.
Here’s what you need:
1 ½inch plastic caps in assorted colors from milk jugs and juice bottles
pom poms, counting bears, large buttons, or other objects in colors that match the caps
glue
pizza box
1. Glue the flat edge of the plastic caps to the bottom of the box in a random manner.
2. Invite children to match the objects to the appropriate color.
Count the balls
A child’s ability to say numbers aloud in order is not real counting. In this activity, children begin to connect object to object in onetoone correspondence, the basis for true counting.
Here’s what you need:
20 1 ½inch plastic caps from milk jugs and juice bottles
20 1inch balls (rubber, plastic, or polystyrene)
glue
pizza box
1. Glue the flat side of the bottle caps to the bottom of the pizza box, in four rows of five, spaced equal distances apart.
2. Invite children to place one ball in each bottle top.
Variation: Instead of bottle tops, place a plastic ice cube tray or muffin tin into the bottom of the box, and use pebbles, pom poms, or other objects that fit the holes.
Match the number
This activity can help children learn to recognize numerals but also understand that each numeral represents a specific number of items.
Here’s what you need:
round cake pan, pizza pan, or circular tray
poster board or tag board
pencil
red marker
ruler
scissors
red selfadhesive dots
clear, selfadhesive plastic
red buttons
pizza box
1. Lay the cake pan on the bottom of the pizza box and draw around the edge to make a circle. Use the red marker to color around the edge to represent tomato sauce.
2. Draw a line through the center, dividing the pizza in half. Draw a line through each half to make fourths, and through each fourth to make eighths.
3. Write 1 and one on the first slice, 2 and two on the second, and so forth. Place the appropriate number of dots on each slice.
4. Cover the circle with selfadhesive plastic.
5. Invite children to place buttons on each slice to correspond to the number on it.
Form the numerals
Learning to recognize and name numerals is as important as learning to recognize and name the letters of the alphabet. You can print numerals using a large font size (72 point) on a computer, or you can cut out printed numerals from a large calendar or other publication.
Here’s what you need:
printed numerals 19
index cards
glue
permanent marker
clear, selfadhesive plastic
pipe cleaners
pizza box
1. Glue one printed numeral to each index card. Write the name of the number on the card—the word three on the card with number 3, for example.
2. Cover each card with selfadhesive plastic (or laminate).
3. Invite children to choose a number and bend a pipe cleaner to form the number.
Match the shape
This activity introduces children to shapes, a basis for what they will later call geometry. It also helps them learn about position, space, and distance.
Here’s what you need:
black felt square, large enough to cover the bottom of the pizza box
glue
patterns for four shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle), each 23 inches in diameter
pieces of felt in different colors
pencil
scissors
pizza box
1. Glue the black felt square in the bottom of the pizza box.
2. Using the patterns, draw one of each shape on a single color (such as white) of felt. Cut out the four shapes and glue them equal distances apart on the black felt.
3. Use the patterns again to draw two or more of each shape on different colors of felt and cut them out.
4. Invite children to match shapes: square to square, circle to circle, and so on.
Variation: Add diamond and octagon shapes.
Size up the pizza
This activity helps children learn the concept of size and begin to compare sizes of objects.
Here’s what you need:
drafting compass or circle pattern
2 to 3 sheets of poster board or tag board
red permanent marker
scissors
3 transparent 8 ½inch by 11inch file folders or envelopes
pizza box
1. Using the drafting compass, draw several circles on the poster board to represent three pizza sizes: small, medium, and large (diameters of 6, 8, and 10 inches, for example). Use the red marker to represent pizza sauce on each circle. Cut out the pizza circles.
2. Write Small on one file folder, Medium on another, and Large on the third.
3. Invite children to sort the pizzas by size into the appropriate folders.
Variation: Add circles of smaller and larger sizes (4 inches and 12 inches in diameter, for example). Have children arrange the circles in order, from smallest to largest.
Work the puzzle
Puzzles help children develop finemotor skills, identify patterns, understand the relationships between objects, and gain skill in problem solving.
Here’s what you need:
plastic placemat with a simple design or picture
scissors
pizza box
1. Size the placemat to the bottom of the box, trimming edges if necessary to make sure it will lie flat inside.
2. Cut the placemat into 4, 6, or 8 irregular pieces.
3. Invite children to scramble the pieces and put them back together.
Measure the ribbon
Measurement is a basic math—and science—skill. Generally measurement refers to finding an object’s length, width, and height in inches and feet. This activity uses Unifix cubes, but you can also use other uniform objects as measuring devices, such as pennies, paper clips, or washers.
Here’s what you need:
Unifix^{®} number cubes
ribbon
scissors
sheet of typing paper
ruler
permanent marker
clear, selfadhesive plastic
glue
pizza box
1. On the longer (11inch) sides of the paper, measure and mark 1inch intervals at top and bottom. Draw lines connecting the intervals, making 10 columns.
2. Write a number from 1 to 10 at the bottom of each column.
3. Cover the paper with selfadhesive plastic (or laminate).
4. Glue the paper to the bottom of the pizza box.
5. Cut lengths of ribbon, making sure they match Unifix cubes of the same lengths (1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth).
6. Invite children to snap the cubes together to measure each ribbon length, and then place the ribbon on the appropriate column.
Find the center
Understanding the concept of center is basic to learning the concepts of diameter, circumference, and radius, which children will learn later in school.
Here’s what you need:
red 1 ½inch plastic bottle caps (from milk jugs or juice jars)
round cake pan, pizza pan, or circular tray
pencil
lengths of string
red permanent marker
ruler or measuring tape
pizza box
1. Lay a cake pan in the bottom of the pizza box and draw around its edge to form a circle. Use the red marker to color around the circle’s edge to represent tomato sauce.
2. Invite children to place bottle caps (pepperoni or tomato slices) side by side inside the circular edge of the pizza. Continue in concentric circles, leaving a blank space in the center.
3. Invite children to pull a string from the left edge of the pizza to the right, crossing the blank space. Then pull another string from the top to the bottom, again crossing the blank space. Where the two intersect is the pizza’s center.
4. Have children measure the distance from left to right and top to bottom, crossing the center. The distances should be equal. This distance is the pizza’s diameter.
Slice the pizza
Although children don’t start learning about fractions until early elementary school, many preschoolers understand the concept of half, as in “We’ll cut the cookie in half so you get part and I get part.” The activity below can begin to expand their understanding.
Here’s what you need:
round cake pan, pizza pan, or circular tray
poster board or tag board
pencil
red marker
ruler
scissors
red buttons
clear, selfadhesive plastic
pizza box
1. Lay the cake pan on the poster board and draw around the edge to make a circle. Use the red marker to color around the edge to represent the pizza tomato sauce.
2. Repeat Step 1 to make seven circles.
3. On one circle, write 1 and Whole.
4. On two circles, draw a line through the center, dividing the pizza in half. Cut one into two halves, and write Half and ½ on each slice. Leave the other pizza whole with a line indicating the two halves.
5. On the next two circles, divide the pizza into fourths. Cut one into fourths, and write Fourth and ¼ on each slice. Leave the other pizza whole with lines drawn indicating fourths.
6. On the last two circles, divide the pizza into eighths. Cut one into eighths, and write Eighth and ⅛ on each slice. Leave the other pizza whole with lines drawn indicating eighths.
7. Invite children to match the slices to the appropriate pizza—that is, the fourth slices to the pizza drawn into fourths.
8. Challenge children to mix and match the different size slices to make a whole: a half and four eighths, or two eighths and six eighths, for example.
Variation: Try this activity with more experienced schoolage children, using thirds, sixths, and ninths.
Pay for the pizza
This activity may be best suited to kindergarten, first grade, and second grade children. You can use play money or real money.
Here’s what you need:
3 quarters
9 nickels
3 dimes
40 pennies
access to copier
poster board
scissors
clear, selfadhesive plastic
sturdy paper envelope or fabric drawstring bag for storing the coins
pizza box
1. Arrange the coins on the copier to make the following strips:
 5 pennies = 1 nickel
 10 pennies = 1 dime
 25 pennies = 1 quarter
 2 nickels = 1 dime
 5 nickels = 1 quarter
 1 nickel and 2 dimes = 1 quarter
 3 nickels and 1 dime = 1 quarter
2. Write an equals sign in the appropriate place on each strip. Cut apart the copied strips. To make the strips sturdier, glue them to samesize strips cut from poster board.
3. Cover the strips with selfadhesive plastic.
4. Arrange one of each coin on the copier and make a copy. Label each coin with the appropriate name (Penny, Nickel, Dime, and Quarter). Glue this sheet to the inside of the pizza box lid.
5. Invite children to place the appropriate number of coins on the strips.
Variation: Cut paper triangles to represent pizza slices, and invite children to buy and sell slices for a nickel, dime, quarter, or a combination.
