Open-Ended Math Centers

At our school, we strongly believe in the benefits of inquiry, exploration and play based learning – for all of our students, but especially our youngest students in KG (kindergarten). One of the best strategies our teachers implement are open-ended math centers.

Here are a few reasons why we love open-ended math centers:

  • open-ended math centers have no start or finish, which means there are never students who are ‘done early’ and never students who need to ‘finish their work’
  • open-ended math centers allow students of different abilities to self-differentiate and explore the math concepts and skills they are developmentally ready for
  • open-ended math centers allow students to construct their own meaning, collaborate with their peers and engage in authentic conversations about math
  • open-ended math centers allow teachers to observe and collect assessment data in a non-threatening, non-stressful environment.

Take a look at some of our open-ended math centers in action. What do you notice?

image image image image image image image image image image image image

How many of the following Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten Math are being explored?


How many of these Common Core State Standard Mathematical Practices are being developed?


Here is a sneak peak into how we plan for open-ended math centers:

Manipulatives Writing Tools Boards/Placemats Teacher Questions/Prompts CCSS
Dot cards (p.34 guide for effective in kindergarten) white boards markers, pencils white boards How many dots are there?

Which has more? Has less?

Any ( peoples, farm animals, cubes) white board markets, pencils white boards, papers, dot cards, stampers, two circle placemats How many are in this circle? How many are in that circle? Which group has more? Less? How could we make it equal? 6
number line, counters white boards markers, papers white boards, papers How can you show me this number? Can you show me a number bigger than this number? Less than this number? 6
counters white boards /white board markers ten frames What number did you build? How many more do you need to make ___? How do we make ex: 11 ? 3
shape blocks pencil, markers paper What do you notice? What are you drawing? Tell me about that shape? How are these shapes the same? 3
building blocks

number cards

playdo How do the numbers look different? How do they look different?
Choose two numbers. One of them is a lot more than the other. What are they and how could you write them?

We are always growing in our own understanding of math centers and play-based learning, so we would love your feedback about our open-ended math centres. We would also love to hear about and see what early math learning looks like in your classroom! 

8 thoughts on “Open-Ended Math Centers

  1. michaelbondclegg October 9, 2015 / 8:21 am

    This is fantastic – our MYP 1 classes have just started doing math centres! I will forward them this post to see if they can’t draw some inspiration from how open these centres are.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Moly November 30, 2015 / 7:09 pm

    I’m curious to see what open-ended math centers would look like in upper elementary. Time to do some inquiring…


    • tbondclegg December 4, 2015 / 4:50 am

      If you find anything interesting in your inquiry please share. I’d love to learn more about open-ended centres in upper grades!


      • Moly December 4, 2015 / 5:42 am

        Of course! 🙂


  3. Rachel March 2, 2018 / 6:17 am

    I really like this idea! I’m already thinking about how I can use this with a range of different manipulatives. Do you give the students any instructions when they get the box of resources or any guiding questions, or is it purely mathematical play at the start?


    • tbondclegg March 2, 2018 / 9:18 am

      Glad it’s helpful! I usually purely mathematical play, often followed by a more open-ended “what do you notice”, then follow that with some more guided inquiry.


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