Using Beads to Develop Foundational Skills

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Getting Started:

Before getting any bead activity underway, think about your purpose.  Will children be working on developing fine motor skills?  If so, perhaps a variety of beads is all you need.  However, if your activity centres around developing literacy or numeracy skills, consider what other materials might be helpful.  Dice, number cards, spinners, word cards, patterning prompts, and name cards might come in handy during these activities.  Have them close by, so that your tabletop activity isn’t interrupted and doesn’t lose steam!

Don’t get overly involved! Let the materials and some gentle prompting guide children! Posing questions such as, “I wonder how we can sort these beads?”, will go a long way. (More on this, below.)

What You Need

What You’ll Need:

1. Dry Spaghetti Noodles

2. Beads |  I like to use an assortment of beads.  Plain coloured beads (pony beads) are great for developing numeracy skills.  Letter beads lend themselves well to literacy.

3. Play Doh, clay, plasticine or similar.  |  I always have Play Doh in the house, so that’s what we use!

4. Tray |  Working in a tray helps contain loose beads.

5. Additional Materials of Your Choosing  |  Dice, number cards, spinners, word cards, patterning prompts, name cards, etc.

What To Do:

As with any tabletop activity, there are a million different directions you can go.  I’m going to provide a few suggestions for a fine motor focus, literacy focus, and numeracy focus.  These activities are relatively simple to implement and a lot of fun for children!

Focus: Fine Motor

This is a wonderful activity for developing fine motor skills, as there are several different tasks to complete.  Start by going over the supplies. Ask children to roll pieces of Play Doh into balls.  (You might use a little rubber bouncy ball as a sample.) Next, you’re going to want your children/students to choose pieces of spaghetti to insert into the Play Doh (1, 2, or 3 strands per ball works best).  Some children might even want to break their spaghetti into half pieces.  Once the spaghetti is secure, you could ask, “What should we do with the beads?”.  I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to suggest threading them onto the noodles!

Focus: Literacy

Beads are a great way to develop literacy skills, all while having a lot of fun!  In this activity, lose the Play Dough.  It can be very frustrating for young children to put words together from the bottom, up.  Instead, have children lay spaghetti flat on the table, so that they can work in a linear fashion.

I love working with names first.  Children love to spell out their name using different materials and are usually quite confident in doing so.  Once children have the hang of this activity, you might ask them to write messages to each other.  One word per spaghetti strand, perhaps!  Children will enjoy breaking up the spaghetti into smaller pieces depending on the length of words, and rooting about in a bowl of beads for the right letter/colour combination!  For children who are just starting to put letter sounds together, try putting out picture/word cards to provide some extra support.

Focus: Numeracy

Patterning! Coloured pony beads are a wonderful way to make patterning playful.  In this activity, have children roll out the Play Doh and insert 1 – 3 spaghetti noodles into each ball. You might ask, “I wonder what kinds of patterns we can make?”.  Children who have already had patterning experience, will take off.  Children new to patterning, will need some support to get going.  Work together on a simple ABAB pattern to start with and then ask them to create a second ABAB pattern beside the first.  Revisit this activity several times and see how complex children’s patterns become.  Having children record their patterns in their journal is always a good idea!

Number Stories

Number Stories! Beads are also a fun way to develop number sense.  You might ask, “How many ways do you think we can make 5?” and “How can we show it using beads?”.  (In the example above, 5 is represented as 5 + 0, 4 + 1, and 3 + 2.)  Children will enjoy this type of problem solving, as it’s so open ended.  Beads come on and off of the spaghetti easily and mathematical conversation will flow as the activity ensues.  All finished with 5?  Let children decide which number to explore next!


Save all of the work from today’s tabletop activity and put it on display in your home or classroom.  Children will LOVE revisiting and discussing their work the next day!

Take pictures!  This work isn’t permanent, but pictures can easily be added to a child’s journal (or the fridge) for later reflection.