Buttons from the Rag Bag! Button Jar Math Activities

by evelynsaenz

Save the buttons from discarded clothing and recycle them as fun, hands-on math manipulatives. What could you learn with a collection of old buttons?

What could you do with a mason jar filled with old buttons? There is something intriguing about buttons. They feel good and sound good as you run them through your fingerss. Buttons are round or at least have rounded edges. Buttons come with various numbers of holes. Some buttons have one hole. Others have two or four holes. One holed buttons usually have actually a loop on the back for attaching them so that no holes show from the front.

So what could you do with your buttons? We will be sorting buttons according to mathematical properties. We will add and subtract buttons. We will be learning to skip count button holes. As the numbers of buttons grow we will learn to multiply and divide buttons. A button collection is delightful for learning math. Come start your button collection today...

Buttons from the Rag Bag!

How to create a Button Collection!

When I was a little girl my mother kept a Rag Bag up in the attic. One of my favorite things to do was to go up into the attic and rummage through the Rag Bag. There were discarded clothing that we had outgrown, that were ripped or had fallen apart to such an extent that they were not longer useful as clothing but there were perfect for taking apart to make something new. 

One of the best parts about the Rag Bag, however, were the buttons. Mom would allow us to go through the old clothes looking for buttons. She taught us how to carefully cut off the threads so as not to cut the cloth and then we would have a new button to add to our button collection. 

We kept our button collection in an old Mason Jar. It took us years to fill it but oh, what fun we had adding buttons, playing with the buttons and learning math with those buttons!


Wooden Spools and Old Buttons

by Carolyn Watson
Wooden Spools and Old Buttons

Do you collect buttons?

Do you save buttons from discarded clothing?
  Display results
Saving buttons from discarded clothing can be fun and useful. Discover all the ways you can help your children learn math from a collection of old buttons.

Where do all the buttons come from?

Read about a boy and his Grandmother's Button Box
The Button Box (English)

An imaginative little boy explores the many pleasures that can be found in--and made from--his grandmother's button box. Recipient of a Reading Magic Award. NCSS-CBC Notable Chi...

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Finding Buttons

Carefully cut the threads to remove the button.

Sorting the Buttons

Looking for Geometry in Buttons

Once you have a few buttons you can start looking for similarities and differences. Sorting is one of the first skills necessary to understanding mathematics and an activity that even very young children enjoy.

Take a handful of buttons and look at them carefully. Notice the shapes of the buttons. Are they all round or do you have some square buttons? Are any of the buttons half spheres? Sorting by shape is beginning geometry. 

Round Buttons

Colorful Buttons
Button Up!
Button Up!

Sorting Buttons by Color

Graphing Buttons to See Mathematics

You might like to sort your buttons by color. This is a great opportunity to introduce your children to graphing. Make a graph with boxes big enough for one button per box. Label the graph with colors across the bottom and numbers up the side. Show your children how to place the buttons according to the colors starting at the bottom. 

How many red buttons do you have? How many blue buttons? How many more red buttons than blue buttons? These are some of the many questions that can be easily seen once you have created your graph. How many more yellow buttons would you need to have the same number as the black buttons?

Sorting Buttons by Size

Template for Sorting Buttons
Button Hoop Template
Button Hoop Template

The Art of Mathematical Design

Templates for Sorting Buttons by Size

Some buttons are larger than others. Buttons found on coats are often the largest. Some buttons are very small. You can find small buttons on baby clothes and on the collars of men's shirts. When sorting buttons it can be fun to use a template.

Templates like the one above make beautiful designs. Young children love to choose the buttons to place on the template as they sort the smaller verses larger buttons. Older children like to create their own designs or make templates for their younger siblings.

Sometimes it can be fun to glue the buttons onto the designs as a piece of artwork. How else could you use these mathematical designs? 

Boost Your Button Collection

Buy a Button Collection to start Learning Math Today!
ROYLCO R2131 Bright Buttons, Assorted Sizes, Shapes and Color, 1/2-Pound

Bright Buttons are a must have craft supply for all collage and sewing crafts. Also great for use in math games to teach counting and sorting.

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Buttons: Assorted Sizes/Colors; 16 Oz. Bucket; no. HYG5516

Make jewelry, decoupage, necklaces. Teach sorting, counting or use as game markers. Assorted sizes and colors.

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Blumenthal Lansing Favorite Findings Basic Buttons Assorted Sizes, 130/Pkg, Nature

Paper crafts and fabrics crafts will take on a new light with these mini shapes buttons. Buttons can be attached using glue, tape, thread, ribbon and much more. Each package con...

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Learning to Skip Count with Button Holes

Learning the 2's and 4's Times Tables with Button Holes

Now let's look at the holes in the buttons. Some buttons have two holes and others have four. Sort the your buttons by the number of holes and then line them up in an orderly fashion. For younger children be sure to use very few buttons for this activity. Older children benefit from grouping the buttons into rows of tens as they will quickly see how they can count the number of holes by multiplying by ten.

Put a finger on each button as you skip count by the number of holes in each button. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 button holes. Once your child can skip count by two's it is time to go on to skip counting by 4's. 

Multiplying and Dividing Button Holes

Sort the Button Holes and Practice Skip Counting
Button Holes
Button Holes

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Corduroy and His Missing Button

Corduroy's Button Hole Multiplication Activity

Multiplying Button Holes

Mix up a batch of bear colored play dough and set out buttons with either two or four holes in each. Children make bears by rolling out the dough and cutting it with a bear shaped cookie cutter. Challenge your children to make multiplication problems with the bears and buttons.

Make one bear with one button. 1 X 2 = 2 (One button with two holes in it equals two holes all together.)

Make a second bear with two buttons. 2 X 2 = 4 (Two buttons with two holes each has 4 holes all together.)

Continue until you have made ten or twelve bears.

Use index cards to write the number sentences below each bear.

Note: The buttons clean up easily if soaked in warm soapy water.


Play Dough Bears with Buttons

Play Dough and Button Hole Math Activity
R & M Teddy Bear Cookie Cutter - 5"

Make holiday or everyday cookies extra special when cut into shapes. Decorate with royal icing, coloured sugars, and sprinkles. Or, use to cut out shapes from brownies, bar cook...

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Sorting Buttons

Button Strings
Some buttons were strung in sets
Some buttons were strung in sets

Place Value with Button Strings

Counting Buttons on Strings

Buttons are also ideal for learning place value. Take a jar of buttons and estimate the number of buttons in the jar. Then using string and a needle, string as many groups of ten as possible. Then group  each string of buttons into a hundred, forming a necklace.

When you have used up all of the buttons you will know the number of hundreds, tens and ones. The hundreds will be necklaces. The tens will be strings of buttons and the left overs will be the ones.

How many buttons did you count?

Updated: 01/15/2015, evelynsaenz
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Button Collection Comments

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Wednesday-Elf on 01/18/2015

I've had a collection of buttons since my grandmother got me started in my childhood and have been saving buttons from worn out clothing ever since. Great for craft projects!

Sylvestermouse on 01/15/2015

Now I am laughing at myself! I got so involved in reading, then writing my comment, that I totally neglected to log in. Yes, that is my comment right below.

Cynthia on 01/15/2015

Fabulous ideas and suggestions for crafts, as well as educational math activities! You are right too, there is something fun about collecting buttons and looking for those unique styles to add to your collection.

evelynsaenz on 03/08/2013

Thank you. Please stop back again soon, ymunro, to let us know which activities your children most enjoyed. :)

ymunro on 03/06/2013

What a fun article, you've given me plenty of ideas.

evelynsaenz on 10/10/2012

I am so glad that you stopped by Rose. Playing in the button box is one of my first memories. Please let me know if you need any help getting started on Wizzley. It's fun and easy. :)

Rose on 10/10/2012

Evelyn - so funny to run into you here today- randomly. I am looking into Wizzley, and yours was the first article I came to. I am a veteran button saver, and they are so fun. I love how you use them for math.

evelynsaenz on 09/26/2012

Seraphic, I would love to have you add a link from this article to your Button Page. Thank you so much for the compliment. :)

Tolovaj on 08/15/2012

Buttons can be great educational tool too. We can learn a lot if we look at their design, material they are made of and so on. Some buttons can be very interesting collectibles with amazing prizes.
Thumbs up!

katiem2 on 08/11/2012

Great fun buttons and math. My youngest daughter collects buttons to this day. Now I know a good use for them. Thanks :)K

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