Subitizing through STEAM

5 Min Read  •  Math

If you teach math in grades pre-K through 2, you most likely have a lot of experience helping students practice subitizing through STEAM. For teachers in older grades, this may be a word you’ve never heard of! Subitizing through STEAM is the ability to glance at a group of dots or objects and immediately know how many there are. This is the skill we use when we roll a die. If we roll a 5, we don’t have to count the dots to know that it is 5, we recognize the pattern and know it automatically. Recognizing these patterns on dice is one way to subitize. Using ten frames is another way to visualize numbers.

Subitizing through STEAM is a foundational math skill that is so important that it should be a part of the daily routine in every early childhood math classroom. The skill relates to the following kindergarten standards:

Count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence (instead of having to begin at 1).
Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects).

First and second-grade teachers may still be working on these standards, however, for students who didn’t master or retain them. If this is a part of your curriculum, the blog Math Coach’s Corner is a fantastic resource for teaching this skill. Since subitizing through STEAM is a skill that should be repeated frequently, having a variety of activities in your teacher arsenal are crucial so that students have multiple ways to practice. Here are a few ways to integrate the arts while practicing subitizing.


Keep a “Subitizing Drum” in the classroom. This could be a Djembe or other handheld drum, or a handmade drum such as an overturned bucket or an oatmeal canister with the lid on. Show students a number, a ten frame, or have a student roll a dice. For each new number, pass the drum to a new student, and that student should say the number, and then play the number of beats on the drum that matches the number shown. Have the rest of the class echo the drum beat with clapping or stomping.


This great idea is from Amanda Whiteman.

“I like to think about using the body as the math material or as the manipulative. I’m always looking for ways to engage the children physically and creatively when teaching a math concept. For example, one of my favorite ways to introduce subitizing through STEAM is through dance. I would first explore with the children body shape. In dance, the body shape is the position the body takes in space. We would first practice making frozen body shapes and then frozen, balancing, shapes. Balancing on one foot would count as one body part touching the floor, balancing with one foot and one hand on the floor we would count as two, and so forth. This sets up a great opportunity for one to one correspondence and a chance for me to use my large dice to practice a little subitizing. I roll my large dice and the pips on my dice dictate how many body parts we balance on.”

Visual Art:

Primary Colors & Bingo Daubers:

Teach students about the color wheel. As they practice filling in ten frames with Bingo Daubers, provide primary colors to stamp with. For very young students, they can practice learning colors as they stamp with the color you ask them to. As students learn and grow, you can challenge them to stamp with only primary colors or to stamp with only secondary colors, requiring them to stamp on top of the other to mix the colors. Once even and odd numbers are introduced, have students create ten frames with a key: even ten frames are primary colors, and odd ten frames are secondary colors.

Pointillism & Bingo Daubers (or Q-tips Dipped in Paint):

Share background information on Pointillism with students. Give each student a number and materials. Using a pencil, have students draw a basic drawing such as a tree, a flower, a snowman, or a house. Have them stamp or paint dots in their drawing to represent their secret number (1 through 9). Then, have students color the rest of the drawing. Once it is displayed, this can be an “I Spy” subitizing activity for the class. Other students search to find the number of dots “hidden” within each drawing. To make this a self-checking station, provide the answer on a paper under a flap so a student can lift and peek to see if they are correct.

Jasper Johns Inspired Ten Frames:

Share the work of Jasper Johns. Give students a piece of large watercolor or construction paper that is divided into a ten frame. Students can choose to paint numbers or dots in the ten frame in the style of Jasper Johns. Here are two kindergarten art examples:

Kandinsky Inspired Circles in a Ten Frame:

Wallis Kandinsky’s Concentric Circles is a great starting point for a ten-frame arts integration project for first or second graders. Have students observe this artwork and compare/contrast it with a traditional ten frame. (His art is actually three rows of four instead of two rows of five. For my third grade friends- we can see this as an array that represents three times four, or students can create multiplication sentences for the number of circles within each square- a great multiplication project as well!) Here is an example of a great lesson on Kandinsky circles for first graders, which can lead to ten frame artwork:

Wikki Sticks:

For a tactile help with visualizing and counting, Wikki Sticks has a lesson plan for creating bracelets with different numbers of pony beads. If you don’t have Wikki Sticks, this could work with pipe cleaners or yarn, too.

Do you have other subitizing through STEAM ideas? Have you tried these?