The Way to Their Heart Through Sensory and Loose Parts

Hearts are something our early learners beg for all year long and not just on Valentine’s Day. We’re probably not alone either. Hearts are one of those shapes some little people crave to learn how to draw, and when they figure it out, they are unstoppable. We have one little this year that when asked what she wanted to learn about she responded, “hearts”. True Story. We asked what about hearts, but that didn’t get too far. So, we decided to take this as an ‘interest’ as opposed to an ‘inquiry’. This interest in hearts isn’t unique to just her and we took it as an opportunity for us to sneak in some exciting learning. So, what better way to sneak in math and literacy learning than with sensory and loose parts.



We found these very small beans at Robinson’s Your Independent Grocer in Huntsville, ON. They feel fantastic and make this sensory experience hard to resist. Our early learners have been showing an interest in counting by tens so we decided to push their thinking by writing numbers on these fantastic heart containers. Some littles have been making shakers out of them and most of them just love dumping and scooping.


This provocation uses felt hearts, mirrors, heart gems from the dollar store (Dollarama), ten frames, dice, and heart printables from stimulatinglearningwithrachel. She’s got some great math mats and these ones are just as wonderful. It’s an opportunity for children to create a math game, make a design, or both. When you have open-ended learning materials, the children get to take their learning in any direction they wish, and we have an opportunity to join them on their thinking journey.


Chocolate play dough is a favourite of ours and always tempting to play with. Our early learners love the way it smells and the “bakers” of the bunch love to make chocolates. The recipe we used is from



Light table play is always a big hit. It’s hard to find games that top Magnatiles, but this one got our attention. We cut out hearts from coloured dividers and printed subitizing dots on it. What’s great about this provocation is you can use it for so much rich math learning. Not only can you match numerals and dots, but you can join two numbers, count on, order numbers forwards or backwards, think about one more/less and two more/less.

A simple and effective game for helping early learners to move from counting all to counting on is to have two different materials; numerals and subitizing dots. The child first identifies the numeral and then counts the dots. For example, if the child selects the numeral heart 6. They roll the dice and count on by counting the dots on the dice rolled.  Often we play this game with 2 dice; a numeral die and a dot die. An indicator to know if your early learner is ready to count on is if they can count forwards from different start points (e.g., 3-12 and 5-14).


We were excited to find these peel and stick tiles at the dollar store (Dollarama). We decided to invite children to write whatever they want with a dry erase marker. You could use these tiles to write anything on it depending on your focus like words, numbers, letters, names, etc.



We’re LOVE-ing being flexible with learning materials as it offers endless experiences for learning. So we decided to combine a strip of the peel and stick tiles on a scrap piece of wood and add some gems for ordering. While it’s important for children to have experiences ordering from 1-10, I’m thinking about ordering backwards and starting and ending at different numbers (e.g., 3-12 or 9-2).



Ten frames are such a wonderful organization tool for children to understand number relationships. This ten frame is awesome. Instead of regular popsicle sticks we used tongue depressors. It’s huge and the littles love it.



Get your early learners thinking about part part whole with this provocation. Use dominos to challenge children to represent their thinking on cork hot mats with popsicles dividing the space.



We couldn’t post this without including a heart literacy experience. Building words is powerful for many children in learning to read. The first sight words we introduce our early readers to are a, as, at, it, in, is. They are phonetic and help children learn to decode language. You could extend this invitation with names as well and maybe even include photos of children in heart shapes.

We would love to hear about your heart inspired invitations and how you are encouraging your early learners to think about math and literacy.


2 thoughts on “The Way to Their Heart Through Sensory and Loose Parts

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