I recently bought a large container of Q-Tips (cotton swabs) to use for learning and exploring all kinds of math. There’s no way I could have anticipated the fun and hours of exploration and imaginative play that would follow! Today I’m going to show how we combined math and art to create shapes and designs with Q-Tips, as well as a huge list of other ways you can use Q-Tips to learn math! Talk about a cheap math manipulative!
*Please Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which help support the work of this site. Read our full disclosure here.*
Materials Needed for Q-Tip Shapes:
Getting Started with Q-Tips to Learn Math:
I originally had an entire plan of math topics I was going to explore with my kids using Q-Tips, but following their lead, our plans changed. 😉
But now I have some ideas for another day!
Because my daughter has been working on not only recognizing shapes, but seeing shapes in the world around us and putting shapes together to form other shapes, we started by making shapes.
I asked both kiddos what kinds of shapes they thought they could make with Q-Tips and they got to work!
They had no trouble forming a square, rectangle, triangle, parallelogram, rhombus and pentagon.
Then I asked what kind of design or other shapes she and her brother could create by putting the shapes together.
Well, that was all it took and their imaginations were off!
They got creating and made the tabernacle, and showed where the ark would be in the Holy of Holies.
They then made a rocket, and explained the different parts to me.
Then, as we were admiring their design, I thought, “Wow, this would be even more fun if the Q-Tips were colored!” I asked what they thought about that and they exclaimed, “YES!!”
I’d never done this before, so I wasn’t entirely sure how well this would turn out, or if it would work at all, but I’m pretty pleased with the result!
To Dye the Q-Tips for Math Shape Art:
First, I filled some cups with water. Then I mixed several drops (maybe 4-6) of food coloring in each cup.
Then I let the kids put a large handful of Q-Tips in each cup and make sure they were fully submerged.
We left the Q-Tips in the cups for maybe 10 minutes (I didn’t time it, but it wasn’t too long, so don’t think you need to leave them to soak all day or anything).
We then carefully removed the Q-Tips and laid them out in a single layer on a paper towel to dry.
We left them on the paper towel overnight, and now they are dry, colored and ready for shape play again!
Once we had a set of colored Q-Tips, I let my kids play with shapes again and they got to work designing a castle. As they created it, they told me all about the different parts and rooms.
“This is where the King sleeps.”
“This is the tower for the guards.”
“Here’s the door where people can enter.”
All throughout, we had conversations about the shapes they were using, and even shapes they weren’t using. For instance, my daughter wanted the tower to be a cylinder.
“Why are you having trouble making a cylinder?” I asked.
“Because the top and bottom is a circle, but I can’t make a circle with straight lines.”
While you could certainly let kids glue their masterpieces down to construction paper, we haven’t. They simply create a design on a large poster board, then take them all down and create something new.
And now we have a pile of pretty, colored Q-Tips to use in future math learning!
Other Ways to Use Q-Tips to Learn Math:
- To model addition and subtraction problems
- For measurement or estimation practice
- To create a hands-on number line to practice problems
- To build tally marks to keep count
- To create a recursive pattern in algebra
- Practice counting to 100
- Exploring symmetry
And so much more! What ideas do you have? Have you ever used Q-Tips to learn math or explore shapes? Share other ideas in the comments!
Want more ideas to learn about shapes? Try one of these:
- Exploring triangles with The Greedy Triangle
- Go on a shape scavenger hunt
- Create 3D shapes with a 3D drawing pen
Want to win a $50 Amazon gift card (to buy awesome STEM supplies 😉 ) as well as fun STEM books? Enter below! Giveaway ends March 13th!
Never Run Out of Fun Math Ideas
If you enjoyed this post, you will love being a part of the Math Geek Mama community! Each week I send an email with fun and engaging math ideas, free resources and special offers. Join 163,000+ readers as we help every child succeed and thrive in math! PLUS, receive my FREE ebook, 5 Math Games You Can Play TODAY, as my gift to you!