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10 Alternatives to Plastic Counters

Shifting classrooms always requires a scramble to inventory current equipment and to replace those old regulars that you use a lot. I know that almost every classroom must need counters at some point in time! Having a range of alternatives can often pique children's interest, but can be a budgetary stretch at the same time. Here are 10 alternatives that I have rustled up with a minimum cost.

1. Smooth stones come ready made and freely available from your local beach or stony river. Small pebbles are perfect as game tokens, or collected for use in Math lessons. They look great with stickers and glitter glued on and are REALLY durable. However, they can be heavy when stored en masse.

2. Wooden shapes are available in packs of 12-20 from your local dollar shop. These are particularly awesome to use for number stories (i.e. 6 bumble bees were sitting on a flower and 3 flew back to the hive, how many were left?). They are more durable than paper cut outs, intriguing and reasonably affordable for small group or whole class work.
 3. Milk bottle caps have to be a favourite of mine. They make great counters for large format board games! There will always be families in your class that are willing to help you collect milk bottle caps and so will your friends and family. A variety of colours are available (flavoured milks/ types of milk/ cream/ juice caps) or you can collect sets of the same colour. They are great for little hands too- often easier to pick up and control than fiddly counters. And milk bottle caps are free!
 4. Glass pebbles are available in mesh bags from your local dollar store (try the hardware or candle section if they aren't in the crafts area). They are awesome for use as 'gems' or 'treasure' themed Math games or activities. Available in a couple of different colours and quite affordable. Be prepared for them to gradually go missing over time though! They can be personalised by gluing small stickers or circles of wrapping paper on the back (like the sight word gems featured on Fairy Dust Teaching
 5. Matchsticks are available in bulk bags from your local dollar store too. Perfect for patterning activities, counting, sorting etc. Relatively inexpensive, they come ready made (always a bonus) but can break quite easily.
 6. I keep these sparkly little lovelies for testing. Although they tend to be feminine, these little jewels are also loved by the boys who enjoy the 'specialness' that they bring to one on one testing situations. Using them is a privilege and my students beg to get to use them. Available in the craft section from dollar shops, there is a huge variety of sparkly gems available.
 7. These large circle magnets are perfect for whole class demonstrations. They are magnetised, so they stick to your whiteboard etc and are easy to grasp and manipulate. I have a range of laminated resources to use with them ('lolly' bags, 'biscuit packets', blank lady bird shapes) which add context to the number stories that we create with them. They also work great with enlarged tens frames. I bought this packet of 8 for $2, however I have been able to pick them up in clear containers of 10-12 from good dollar shops.
 8. Ring pull tabs from soft drink cans are lightweight and freely available. There will always be families in your class who drink from cans (i.e. dad drinking beer), and someone willing to collect them for you. VERY affordable, they make a good alternative to regular counters. But they can take a long time to collect.
 9. Beer bottle caps are another free, recyclable material that can be useful in your Math corner. This set has been washed and spray painted silver. They are easy to spray paint a variety of colours and easy to collect. Try adding stickers before clear coating to create cute game counters. Unbranded beer bottle caps are available where beer brewing supplies are available.
10. Painted pegs. Perfect for counting and clipping onto 'washing lines' (curtain wire strung across a window at a child-friendly height). Alternatively, try sorting by colour or pattern? Or use plain pegs and write numbers on them for a number ordering activity. Try dying plain pegs (there are plenty of tutorials online) if you are looking for value for money. Your local Bunnings will have an affordable array of plain pegs, and painted pegs are often available in the craft section of dollar shops.

So there you have it. 10 tried and true child friendly manipulative's and alternatives for counters in your Math corners. They are all relatively inexpensive, intriguing and provide different contexts for learning. Remember, the cheaper the materials (i.e. free), often the greater the work involved in setting them up (washing, spray painting, gluing, clear coating etc). I have by no means exhausted my possibilities, so check back again another day for 10 more cheap and cheerful ideas!


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