Series: Ideas at Work

Math at Your Fingertips: Songs and Fingerplays for Preschoolers

Math at Your Fingertips: Songs and Fingerplays for Preschoolers
Fingerplay songs for Preschoolers 2

Do you remember enjoying fingerplay songs like 5 Little Monkeys or Un Elefante Se Balanceaba when you were young? You may not have realized that sharing these songs and fingerplays for preschoolers is a great way to bring math to life. When we use fingerplays, we help our children’s mathematical understanding by:

  • Connecting a quantity to its number name. For adults it seems like second nature that the word “three” signifies the quantity of 3 objects, but this is a complex and abstract concept! By using our fingers to show a quantity (i.e. holding up three fingers when we say “three squirrels”) we are helping children connect the number name to the quantity it represents.
  • Adding a visual for number relationships. Fingerplay songs for preschoolers can tell the story of squirrels coming to a branch one by one or birdies leaving a nest one by one. These bring out number relationships (i.e. 2 is one less than 3, or 2 is one more than 1), which are essential for building a strong number sense. By using our fingers, children also have a visual that is helping them see and feel the difference between 4 and 3 or 3 and 2.
  • Highlighting the rules of counting. Children can see important principles of counting in action, like only counting each item once.
  • Emphasizing small quantities. A strong foundation with small quantities is essential for young children before they move on to larger numbers.

Good Times for Finger Play Rhymes

Imagine you are sitting looking out the window with your child or taking a walk; they point out a bird or a squirrel running across a tree branch, or ducks in the pond. This is the perfect time to introduce one of many fingerplays for preschoolers in the form of a song like 5 Little Ducks or 5 Little Squirrels. If you had peas for lunch, follow up with 5 Peas in a Pod. The important thing is that you and your child are finding math in a shared interest.

But fingerplay songs are equally fun anytime your child is restless or needs a little purposeful movement break. It’s amazing how you starting to sing one of these songs brings even toddlers over to join in the fun. (Or make it a game.) Children learn naturally through imitation and you will find that as you bring joy and playfulness to these fingerplay songs with your own voice, children will naturally want to join in. Most importantly, you will all be having fun together and connecting through math!

Five little squirrels sat up in a tree; (Hold up five fingers)
The first squirrel said, “Well, what do I see?” (Point to thumb)
The second squirrel said, “I see a dog!”
The third squirrel said, “I see a frog!”
The fourth squirrel said, “Let’s run into the shade!”
The fifth squirrel said, “I’m not afraid!”
Then RUFF went the dog, and away the squirrels ran,
One, two, three, four, five!

Tips & Tricks

  • In order to make the math in these rhymes meaningful for young children we need to take an extra step and connect that math language to gesture. This will engage their bodies, eyes, voices, and minds in the learning, which makes it even more powerful!
  • Don’t worry if your child just watches and listens at first. Little by little, you will find that they will enthusiastically make the big movements such as shaking their finger to scold the monkeys for jumping on the bed in 5 Little Monkeys. It may take longer to manage folding up or down their fingers, so you need to model the change in the number of fingers you have up.
  • Below you will find an example of rhymes and fingerplays for preschoolers. Using rhymes from your own childhood is a wonderful way to share language and culture with your children.


This is a beehive (hand cupped)
Where are the bees?
Hidden away where nobody sees…
Now they come creeping out of the hive
One, two, three, four, five (extend fingers one by one)
Five bees!

Five Little Birdies

Five little birdies went out one day over the hills and far away
The mother bird called “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet”
But only four little birdies came to see
(continue decreasing number of birdies)

Las Ardillas

Una ardilla se balanceaba sobre una rama delgadita,
Como veía que resistía, fue a llamar a otra ardilla.
Dos ardillas se balanceaban sobre una rama delgadita,
Como veían que resistía, fueron a llamar a otra ardilla …
Dos ardillas se balanceaban sobre una rama delgadita,
Como veían que resistía, fueron a llamar a otra ardilla.
… (sigue agregando una ardilla)

Ten Little Raindrops

One little, two little, three little raindrops,
Four little, five little, six little raindrops,
Seven little, eight little, nine little raindrops,
Ten little raindrops falling down!

Falling, falling, falling raindrops,
Falling, falling, falling raindrops,
Falling, falling, falling raindrops,
Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, splash!

Get More Songs and Rhymes

Download a PDF version of these and more fingerplay songs for preschoolers.