2019-20 Favorite #1: Establishing Math Routines and Expectations

As we finish up a school year, and prepare for the next one, I wanted to re-share my top 5 favorite blog posts from the 2019-20 school year! Today we have the most popular blog post from 2019-20… drumroll please… Establishing Math Routines and Expectations!

Starting up routines at the beginning of the year can be a daunting task if you are not sure what you want the routine to look like (for more information check out this previous blog post on the first week of kindergarten). For teaching math, I use a math workshop model. I give a mini-lesson on the rug and then send students off to stations to practice what we have learned. But it doesn’t just look like that from day one! I have to introduce the station routine and materials slowly over several days

Day 1: One Math Material to Start

I don’t start math workshop from Day 1 of school, because our first week is only half days and I want to spend that time doing other class routines and building a classroom community. But, on the first day of math, I start with introducing one tool – dice. I start with dice because we use it a lot at our stations (A LOT!) and because I do a roll and color activity to go with Brown Bear, Brown Bear and this way I can teach them about using colored pencils too.

When I introduce dice I show them the dice and ask what they notice (I use the dotted dice to start). The children point out that the sides have different number dots. These dots represent the numbers. Then I model how to roll the dice. I use little trays (the ones from frozen meals), but I have also seen felt paper used, to contain the dice and minimize on the sound. I model how to roll the dice into the tray and talk about how if the dice doesn’t land in the tray than we aren’t being calm and safe with our math tools. Eventually these trays become choice for my students, unless they are unexpected with the dice and then the logical consequence is to use the tray again

Day 2: The Main Math Materials and Math Expectations

math tools for kindergarten

On the second day of math workshop, I introduce the next most used tools – unifix cubes and pattern blocks. I put out pattern blocks on two tables and unifix cubes on two tables. Nothing more. I want to give my students the chance to explore with the materials before I ever ask them to use the materials for learning. This also starts the routine of stations because they start at the table they sit at and then after about 10 minutes I have them switch to another table. Eventually, the goal will be to have students change stations independently and at their own pace, so this slowly introduces them to the idea of changing stations.

math tools for kindergarten

On this day, before sending students off to the tables, we go over how these are math tools and not math toys. We make a chart of the differences between toys and tools. We also talk about the expectations of math tools – how these tools stay on the tables, they are for sharing, we talk about math when we use then, and we clean up before moving to another activity.

As the students are working at the tables, I am pointing out ways that they are using the materials expectedly and asking them about what they notice about the tools. Then, at the end, we reflect whole class on how we did using the math tools.

Day 3: More Math Materials

I add in a few more math materials on the next day so that each table has a different material. Still, it is just the materials and nothing more. On one table I have geoboards, another table I put dominos, and another table I put bear counters. On the fourth table I put out pattern blocks again. Before sending the students out to the tables, I show them the materials we will be using and again ask what they notice. This conversation continues to the tables. We discuss again, how these are tools and not toys. This can be hard for the bear counters, because they do look like toys, so we come up with ways to use them as tools. The students talk about using them to count, to sort, and to make patterns.

Before letting the children use geoboards, you definitely need to discuss the safety around using rubber bands. I model how to use the rubber bands on the geoboard (without giving away too much about what you can do with the geoboards) and talk about how, if used unexpectedly, people could really get hurt. I also mention that if we don’t use math tools expectedly, there will be a consequence. If you are unsafe with the rubber bands, then you can’t use that station for today.

While there is a different material on every table, I still tell the students when to change to the next table. This is getting them in the practice of cleaning up before they move to another station. It is also good practice for them to see how long to stay at each station, as opposed to floating from station to station.

Day 4: Let the Math Activities Begin!

I keep out three of the math materials on the table from the previous day, whichever seemed to have the most engagement with the students. Then, I introduce a new math material (dry erase markers) and start to include activities with the materials. These activities are very simple, easy to follow, and some start to include using more than one material at a time. The goal of the activities is to practice the routine of math stations, not to practice math. Once the routine of math stations are established and run like a well-oiled machine, all students can feel successful when more math is included in the activities. Giving the students all this time to practice the station routines will save me a lot of time in the future from dealing with behavior issues. It will also allow me to pull small groups and let the students be more independent.

Day 5: Math Station Routines

math tools for kindergarten

I keep all the math stations the same as the day before for the next two days as we only practice using math stations. Today’s focus is all on changing math stations and I definitely hype up this new routine. I talk about how choosing the stations they go to is a big deal, but I think they are ready to give it a try!

Different teachers had different preferences. I like to let my students change math stations when they are ready to switch. It does take time to practice this, but in the end I love the independence it teaches them and we can talk about really staying at a station until they feel “their brain has grown”.

So in order to teach this idea of switching stations, we talk about some expectations. Students can choose wherever they want to go, they can work alone or work with others, and they can move to any area once they clean up. We do a lot of talk before, during, and after the practice about how they know when to change stations. In fact, throughout the year when I introduce a new activity, I say something like, “In order to really make your brain grow, you should stay here for 5 practices. Can you stay longer? Of course! Can you stay the whole time? Of course!”

While students are at stations and after they are done, I make sure to reinforce the behavior I am seeing and to have the students reflect on the work they did today and goals they have for tomorrow.

Day 6: Solving Yesterday’s Problems

math tools for kindergarten

My idea for math stations is that students must go to every station at least once before they go back to a station they love. This way, they do try every station. So how do I monitor this? I use a sign out sheet. I find that these kinds of routines stick more if they are thought about as a whole class.

So, I start our math time with a discussion on how yesterday’s math stations went. I listen to the children’s reflections, and if they don’t add it, I say that I noticed some students loved some stations so much they didn’t want to leave and some students went to all the stations. I will talk about how important it is to try all the stations because they help our brains grown (can you tell I use that phrase a lot?), so I say, “We should try all the stations at least once before we go back to another station. But how will we know which stations we have gone to? Well, I made a sign out sheet for you. When you have cleaned up and are ready to go to another station, you need to write your name on the sign out sheet (it is a class list, so that students can have a visual of their name if they need it).

Then I give students a chance to practice this, and I point out when students have remembered to sign out on their own or I give reminders to students who have forgotten.

Day 7: A Few Reminders

I keep all the stations the same as the past few days but start our math block reflecting on how the stations are going and review the expectations. I ask what goal we should work on for today, and usually the goal is remembering to clean up the station before you leave it. We discuss why it is important to clean up before we go (so that someone else can enjoy the station) and then we agree to practice this at stations today. At the stations I point out whenever I see students meeting the expectations and I give reminders when needed. At the end, we reflect on how we did and set a goal for the next math station day.


After those 7 days of math material exploration and math station routines, my students are ready for new math activities and to start our real math learning. It is really important to give students time to explore with the math materials and time to practice the routines before expecting them to succeed at learning math. Is this similar to the way you introduce math workshop? Let me know in the comments!

Want help with more math teaching? Check out my other math blog posts!

free math routine chart


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