Firstly, what is a ten frame? It is an array, a two by five rectangular frame. Our number system is based around ten and a ten frame is a visual representation of this number system. A ten frame gives children the opportunity to explore maths concepts using concrete materials and helps them to develop number sense and an understanding of place value. Here are ten things you can try with your ten frame. Have fun!

  • Make a Number – One of the simplest ways to get started with a ten frame is to ask children to ‘make a number,’ for example – 6. Can they find six objects and place them on the frame. How many different ways can they arrange their objects? Do they understand that whichever formation they lay their objects in, the total will always be 6?
  • Counting – 1:1 correspondence is counting one object as you say one number, essentially pointing to each object in turn and counting them accurately. Simply place objects on the ten frame and count them, pointing to each object as you count. You could use a dice – throw the dice and ask the children to place the correct amount of objects onto the board – Can they find the matching numeral? Can they write that numeral? This will develop children’s understanding of cardinality (knowing that the number represents the number of items in a group) – Can your children match the numeral to the quantity? Find groups of objects and place them on the frame. Can your children count them accurately? Have numbers available for your children to place next to the group.
  • Make a Pattern - Find a set of two or three different objects and arrange them into a repeating pattern. Say the ‘pattern’ out loud, eg. shell, stone, shell, stone, shell…
  • Explore Symmetry – Place a divide (a long stick, ribbon or tape) down the middle of your ten frame and create a pattern of objects down one side. Ask the children to copy it on the other side to begin exploring the concept of symmetry.

  • A Scavenger Hunt – Set your children the challenge of finding ten objects. It could be ten random objects, eg. a train, a shoe, a spoon, or it could be themed for example, find ten green things. You could use a sand timer or stopwatch to begin to introduce the concept of time and to make the challenge exciting, including some physical activity.
  • The Fiveness of Five – this helps children develop number sense and the understanding of number symbols. Number sense is knowing for example, what is 5 is a variety of contexts and representations. The essence of understanding ‘five-ness’ is understanding what the symbol 5 indicates and how five can be represented in different ways. See how many ways you can make 5 in each square on your ten frame and then have a go with other numbers.
  • Introduce Simple Addition – Ask the children to place a set of objects on the top row of the ten frame and another set of objects on the bottom row. How many do they have altogether? Introduce the mathematical language eg. You have 3 trains and 2 cars. 3 plus 2 equals 5. You have five things altogether.
  • Number Bonds to Ten – Find two sets of different objects to fill your ten frame, when you do this, you are always creating a number bond to 10. Highlight this to the children, using the same language eg. “You have 7 shells and 3 sticks. How many is that altogether, let’s count - 7 plus 3 equal 10.”
  • Create a number line – Can your children recognise numerals one to ten and place them in the correct order? Can they do it backwards?
  • Just leave it! – Leave it outside or in your classroom for the children to discover. What will they choose to do with it? Often their ideas are way better than ours!

There are many ways to create a ten frame. You could simply draw one on paper or cardboard, use a sharpie on an old pillowcase or piece of fabric (perfect to keep in your pocket) or even on the ground with tape or chalk.

Try making them different sizes and use them inside and out. Make up your own games and please share, we would love to see your ideas. Here are some fabulous resources from Cosy that would be perfect for using alongside your ten frame.

Counting to ten accessories:

Dice, Ladybird Stones, Number pebbles, Place Value Cones, Shell Net Bag, Felt Balls

Gallery of ten frame ideas:

Share your outdoor play with us on our Social Channels - tag us @CosyDirect #CosyDirect in your play.


With thanks to Janine from Hampden Way Nursery for writing this post and to our Cosy Creatives and Cosy Club Members for their input.

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