Button Counting Mats
Buttons aren't limited to use in practical life.
While they are an incredibly important practical life skill to master, my students have loved working with buttons to: sort, count, shape match, weigh, line up to make letters, decorate their fine motor Play-Doh creations, sew onto plastic canvas and practice fine motor skill work with buttoning and unbuttoning through button holes.
The buttons we use in the classroom are all different colors, sizes and shapes, making them fun to work with. Two of our favorite button activities are the Button Counting Mats and the Button Snake.
The Button Counting Mats we use in my classroom are made from craft foam rectangles, large felt number stickers, various buttons and self-stick hook and loop coins. My mats only go up to number 20, since I found the space for the corresponding amount of buttons on the foam very limited at that point.
The reason felt number stickers were used was to add an extra tactile/sensory component to the activity, similar to sandpaper letters and numbers in Montessori. Children learn and remember best by also using their sense of touch and the raised felt numbers provide that developmental need, helping my students comprehend how the numbers are formed by feeling with their fingertips. I found the felt number stickers in the Target dollar section. If you aren't able to find large felt number stickers, large number stickers or large glitter number stickers would also work just fine.
When my students are working with the Button Counting Mats, I have them first trace the number with their finger tips and say its name. Then, I have my students count out the buttons as they add them to the mat and once as again after they have all been added.
The hook and loop coins not only attach the buttons to the foam sheet, they also provide a fine motor component in addition to the regular grasp and placement of the buttons. Removing the buttons requires stronger pincer grip strength.
The Buttons Snakes are made from woven ribbon, felt squares and a large button. To make The Button Snakes, its important to use a button large enough for very young children to grasp and manipulate through the button holes easily. The buttons I use are approximately the size of a quarter.
The ribbon width is smaller than that of the button, and the ribbon is cut approximately 20" long. The button needs to be secured by stitching to one end. I found that flat rolling the end of the woven ribbon, two or three times, and stitching through the flat roll made a stronger, longer lasting snake and kept the ribbon from fraying.
I used the stiffer craft felt, since its much easier to manipulate and will hold its structure better in the long run with how much use they will get. The regular weight felt can be too flimsy for some children to use and the button hole can stretch out of shape or tear. My Button Snakes have withstood multiple uses and are still going strong. Its important to cut the squares of felt larger than the button, usually between two and three inches square. Once all the felt squares have been cut, fold them in half and cut a diagonal button hole slit that is larger than the button. Hand stitch one of the felt squares to the other end of the woven ribbon. Again, I found that making a tight, flat roll (roll two or three times) on the end of the ribbon before stitching the ribbon end to the felt, provided a more secure tail/stopping point for the buttoning squares and kept the ribbon from fraying.
Button Snakes are a simple and colorful activity that can keep children engaged for extended periods of time, especially in a group setting. I introduce button snakes in small group or for our morning table time activity. My students talk with each other about the colors and patterns they are forming. You can differentiate for different ages and skill levels by the amount of buttoning squares you set out for them to use. If a student seems to be engaged and isn't frustrated, you may want to add more buttoning squares to their tray as they go along. Once all the felt buttoning squares have been added to the snake, I have my students remove them. The unbuttoning skill is just as important as the buttoning.
My Amazon Picks used for these activities are: