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Building math concepts in the housekeeping center

by Tisha Shipley


Center time has just started in Mr. Rodriguez’s kindergarten classroom. In the housekeeping center the children are busy getting ready to open the class store. One boy is behind the register with play money and a calculator. Two girls wearing store aprons are pricing and stocking the shelves with everyone’s favorite toys brought from home. Two other children are customers waiting for the doors to open with a certain amount of money they have earned. They are ready to shop.


Learning centers in early childhood classrooms
Centers are the heart of an early childhood environment. “Young children learn so much during center time—social interaction with both peers and adults, self-regulation of behavior, language development, time management, tons of age-appropriate academics, trying new things in a safe environment, etc.” (Fun-A-Day, n.d.).

Ideally centers are changed out often to meet curriculum demands so that children are authentically engaged in learning. Such flexibility allows children to engage in almost every activity and use their imagination to build and create whatever they want. Having a place and time where they can imagine, dream and build experiences, and use their creative energy is important. This kind of play is often limited today because of technology and games that have criteria and give direction.


Why math in the housekeeping center?
The housekeeping center, also known as the dramatic play center, typically contains real and toy objects found in most homes, such as food, dress-up clothes, telephones, household appliances, and furniture. Because props are easily changed, the housekeeping center lends itself to different themes and subjects.

In the housekeeping center above, set up as a class store, children will take turns running the cash register, answering and making calls on the telephone, stocking the shelves, and buying their favorite items. The interactions between clerks and customers will introduce them to math concepts and further the development of their math skills.

“Research on children’s learning in the first six years of life demonstrates the importance of early experiences in mathematics. An engaging and encouraging climate for children’s early encounters with mathematics develops their confidence in their ability to understand and use mathematics” (Clements & Conference Working Group, 2004).

Math skills in the class store may include the following:
learning, writing, and recognizing numbers and number words
using technology
using representations or pictures
adding and subtracting
using fractions
sorting and organizing by color, number, size, and shape
recognizing money and counting
using math vocabulary
learning concepts of more, less, and equal

By setting up the housekeeping center as a class store, teachers allow children to draw upon their own real world experiences. Children shop with their families, for example, and they buy things from stores. Some families may own a store or work in one. Learning to run a class store and buy things from it involves children in problem solving and thinking about real-world ideas and solutions.

When children show ownership, express excitement, and participate in such activities, they become engaged in their learning and want to practice the skills that are being taught. The class store is a great way to reinforce and assess what each child is learning.


How to incorporate the class store into the housekeeping center
Children may want to use objects that the housekeeping center already has in it, such as empty food cartons, dishes, and clothes. Other materials, or props, that you will need for the class store include the following:
phone (cell phone, cordless phone, or an old rotary phone)
play money
cash register
paper and markers for signs
hand held scanners (pretend)
shopping bags
dress-up clothing
name tags
toys brought from home

To engage children and hold their interest, open the center in phases.

Phase one: Send a letter home to families explaining the class store activity. Invite them to bring a favorite toy marked with the child’s name.

On the first day, after all the toys have arrived, invite children to show which toy they chose from home and why. Children can have in-depth conversations about where they got the toy or who gave it to them. This is an opportunity to model how to handle and care for other people’s property.

In the next day or two, consider introducing the concept of a store using children’s literature, such as Tony Goes Shopping by Valerie Sheehan (2014). For extra math practice, invite children to sort or graph toys by color, shape, style and texture.

Phase two: Place the toys in the housekeeping center for the children to play with. Encourage them to work together to decide how the store might be set up. Talk with children about the tasks they want to do in the store, such as stocking the shelves, answering or making calls on the phone, working the cash register, or buying their favorite items as customers.

Phase three: Teach or practice math concepts according to the children’s developmental levels. They may be working on number and money recognition, for example. Engage children in conversations about what stores are, how they make money, and how people get paid to work. Review money and math concepts that they will use when they are working in the store.

Phase four: When the store is set up, have a grand opening. Invite children to take turns participating in the various tasks. Take pictures of children and display them in the classroom.

Activities in the class store give children opportunities to practice and apply math skills they are learning. The activities also allow you to authentically assess what children can do, understand, and communicate. This is important because children learn at their own pace and developmental level. As children play in the class store, observe them individually and note their different mathematical abilities.


Pizza Palace
To continue math practice in the housekeeping center, change the class store into the Pizza Palace. Involve children in making menus, hanging signs, getting the cash register ready, sorting money, organizing and sorting food, and finding appropriate clothing. The phases are the same as in the class store. Changing the themes of the housekeeping center keeps the math concepts engaging.

Phase one: Invite children to talk about their favorite restaurants: what they like to eat, where they like to eat, and how often they eat their favorite food. Read children’s literature, or your favorite book about pizza. One example is Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig (1998, 2004).

This is a good time to try different pizzas that you either make in the classroom or bring from home. Cooking in the classroom offers different math concepts to teach to children—measuring, counting, one-to-one correspondence, addition, patterning, simple fractions, and data collection. (See links to resources at the end of this article.)

Involve children in graphing each child’s favorite pizza and determine the classroom favorite.

Phase two: Introduce the materials that will be in the Pizza Palace:
food (real or fake depending on what you are doing—pizza crust, toppings, sauce)
microwave or a pretend oven
tables and chairs
menus and signs made by the children
play money
cash register
recipe cards
plates and eating utensils
take-home math bags with play money and items that children and families can practice buying from each other

Discuss restaurants and how each of the materials listed above is used. Allow children to play with the materials for the next few days. The idea is to get the children excited about the Pizza Palace. Observe which skills and ideas they are bringing from the class store and incorporate ideas from conversations you have with the children and your observations.

Phase three: Invite children to begin making the menus and signs for the restaurant. In this activity, children are practicing writing numbers and letters and collaborating on what they want the restaurant to serve. They are preparing to open the restaurant. This task may be easier as a result of their work with the class store.

Phase four: Have a grand opening of the Pizza Palace. This may be a time when you have an actual pizza party in your classroom and invite the families. Have the children explain to them what the Pizza Palace is and give background on math concepts that they are learning and practicing.


Expanded opportunities
Ideally the center will always be evolving. You can find many ways to change the props in the housekeeping center to keep a math focus that allows children to practice, collaborate, foster independence, differentiate, and learn math concepts in a meaningful way. Consider the following:
lemonade stand
garage sale
grocery store
farmers market
hamburger drive-in
post office
sandwich shop


Math throughout the day
You can do other things throughout the day to reinforce mathematical learning, such as using children’s literature and cooking in the classroom.

As you begin setting up the housekeeping center, keep in mind which math concepts and strategies you will be teaching. You can add these lessons to all centers to reinforce concepts in a natural, developmentally appropriate, and differentiated way for each student.

When you get children excited and they feel ownership in what they are doing, they will participate, engage, and collaborate while learning in an authentic way.


Isbell, Rebecca. (n. d). Top 14 hints for effective learning centers,
The author of this handout, a former professor of early childhood education at East Tennessee State University, is a consultant and frequent presenter at conferences and training meetings.
Shipley, Tisha (n.d.). “Incorporate Cooking Lessons with Children’s Lit,”
This site contains a list of 15 children’s books, such as Green Eggs and Ham and Blueberries for Sal, that can serve as a springboard for literacy, art, math, and cooking activities.
Shipley, Tisha (n.d.). Childrens lit that teach math concepts,
This site contains a list of 17 children’s books, such as How Do Dinosaurs Count to 10 and Round Is a Mooncake, that you can use to teach numbers, shapes, and other math concepts.


Clements, D. H., & Conference Working Group. (2004). Part one: Major themes and recommendations. In D. H. Clements, J. Sarama, and A. M. DiBiase (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education, pp. 7–76. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Fun-A-Day. (n. d.). What are centers in preschool and why are they important? Retrieved 1/8/2018 from