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Science Kids on the Loose

Estimation Exploration

Learn about estimating numbers of objects, then check your estimates by counting.

Download this activity (pdf)


  • A collection of the same small objects-shells, jellybeans, pencils, pennies, pasta shapes, acorns, or something like that.
  • A clear jar or bowl can help, but it isn’t necessary


  • Preschoolers sometimes make wildly inaccurate estimates, but that’s why we do these estimation activities. They help children to develop their number sense which is a sort of intuitive feeling about numbers and amounts that we use in everyday life and when we do more exact calculations.
  • Be positive about children’s estimation attempts. With experience and your support, they will improve.
  • Use mathematical words-more than, less than, fewer than-during this activity and in everyday life


  1. Put about 20 shells (or your chosen objects) in the jar, bowl, or a pile.
  2. Have children observe how full the jar/bowl is or how big the pile is.
  3. Remove 10 items from the group. Doing this gives children a visual idea of what 10 shells looks like. It helps them make more accurate estimates.
  4. Then put the shells together again. Remind children that there are at least 10 in the jar/bowl/pile.
  5. Remind them, too, to think about what 10 looked like. Ask children to estimate how many shells there are altogether. You can write down the estimates if you’d like.
  6. Ask children to think about how you could “find out for sure” how many shells you have.
  7. Count together to check the estimates.
  8. Repeat again with a similar number of shells to give children more experience. If they are having trouble counting this high, feel free to reduce the numbers involved. If children seem ready to work with larger numbers, increase the number of shells.(You can also skip Step # 3 as children’s estimates improve).

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