A Cat Quandary

In this lesson, children will use objects, pictures and numbers to play out scenarios that involve addition and subtraction.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:

Numbers and Operations

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another
  • Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates
  • Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers and number systems
  • Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Counting with understanding and recognizing “how many” in sets of objects
  • Understanding the effects of adding and subtracting whole numbers
  • Developing and using strategies for whole-number computations, with an emphasis on addition and subtraction
  • Developing fluency with basic number combinations for addition and subtraction
  • Modeling situations that involve the addition and subtraction of whole numbers, using objects, pictures and symbols

A Cat Quandary

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
  • A sheet of paper for every child in your group, cut in the shape of a house (make sure the house is large enough to be used as a work mat and accommodate 15 to 20 teddy bear counters)
  • 15 to 20 teddy bear counters for each child (if you do not have teddy bear counters, any type of counter will do)
  • An apron or a sign that represents Mrs. McTats
  • Cat ears or pictures of cats to represent each of the cats

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Introduce the book. Show the cover and ask the children if they are good pretenders. Explain that today they are going to act out the story of Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats and that you need a volunteer to play Mrs. McTats. Ask the volunteer to come up and sit in a chair next to you. If you have decided to use props, give the props to the Mrs. McTats volunteer.
  2. Read the story. Pause each time a cat is added to the story. When you read: “She lived all alone except for one cat,” ask: “What do we need to add to our story?” (A cat.) “Who would like to be a cat?” Ask a volunteer to come up and sit next to Mrs. McTats. If you have decided to use cat ears or pictures, give the cat volunteer the prop that you are using.
  3. Continue to read the story, adding a cat, or cats, each time the story adds more cats. Pause to ask the total of cats each time one or more cats is added. When you read, “I’m sure I’ve got room for just two more cats,” ask: “Mrs. McTats had one cat. Now two more cats have come to live in her house. How many cats does she have now?” (Three: 2+1=3)
  4. As the pattern continues in the book, ask the children to predict how many cats are going to enter the house each time Mrs. McTats enters the house. Continue to act out the story as you read the book. At the end of the book, ask: “How many cats does Mrs. McTats have living in her house now?”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Explain to the children that now they are going to pretend to be Mrs. McTats. Give each child a sheet of paper cut in the shape of a house and ask the children to decorate the house. Do not allow the children to spend a lot of time decorating the house, as this is not the purpose of the lesson.
  2. Distribute the teddy bear counters (or other counters if you are not using teddy bears as counters). Ask the children to pretend that these counters are cats, saying:  I think we can pretend that these teddy bears are cats, don’t you?”
  3. Read the book again. This time, the children will add the “cats” to their houses instead of acting out the story.
  4. Model what the children should do when they hear that cats are being added to the house. When you read: “In a small, cozy cottage lived Mrs. McTat, she lived all alone, except for one cat,” display your own house activity mat and model the actions that the children should take. Ask: “How many cats should we begin with?” (One)  Say: “Okay, let’s all add one cat to our houses. Now listen carefully to the story and let me know when we should add more cats to our houses.”
  5. Continue reading and pausing throughout to make sure that the children are adding the correct number of cats. Each time Mrs. McTats adds cats, ask: “How many cats does Mrs. McTats have in her house?” (The number you last counted: three.) Say: “Okay, now she wants to add two more cats. Everyone add two cats to your houses.” Ask: “Now how many cats does Mrs. McTats have?”  (Five: “Yes, 3+ 2=5). Mrs. McTats had three cats, two more came to live with her and now she has five cats.”
  6. When the story is finished, ask: “Now how many cats does Mrs. McTats have living in her house? Now I’d like you to draw the number of cats that are living in Mrs. McTats’s house, in your house. For each counter that represents a cat, draw a cat in your house.” Suggest to the children that, instead of taking the “cat” counters off of the mat all at once, they should take a counter off and, as they do, draw a cat. Then take another counter off of the mat and draw another cat. This reinforces one-to-one correspondence.

Additional Extensions

  • Children can pair up and tell the story with a partner, with one child telling the story while the other child adds the counters to the mat.
  • Some children will have no trouble predicting what will happen next: two more cats. Skip several pages ahead in the book and ask what they predict will happen. Or retell the story, skip counting by threes, fours or even tens.
  • Provide an extra piece of paper and ask the children to write the numerical equations as you read the book and add cats as the book continues.  Continue to model and emphasize operations. For example, when you are adding two cats to the three cats that are already on the mat, write and say: 3+2=5. Make sure that the number sentence corresponds with their actions.
  • Retell the story backwards, using subtraction. “Mrs. McTats had 16 cats living in her house. Two cats went to live with their grandma. How many cats are now living at Mrs. McTats’s house?” The children will start with 16 counters on their mats and continue taking away cats until there is only one cat left. Again, model and emphasize operations. Write and say: 16-2=14.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Add: An increase in amount or number (e.g.,”How many cats should we add to our houses?”)
  • How many: The total or sum (e.g.,”How many cats does Mrs. McTats have in her house now?”)
  • Predict: To guess what will happen next (e.g.,”Can you predict what will happen when you hear a scratching at the door? Can you predict how many cats will be at Mrs. McTats’s door?”)
  • Plus: The addition of (e.g.”Two plus two equals four.”)
  • Equals: To be the same in number or amount (e.g.,”When we have one cat plus two more cats, the amount equals three cats.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not have one-to-one correspondence
  • Have difficulty recognizing the number pattern of the book
  • Require step-by-step modeling
Child care providers may:
  • Help toddlers choose the appropriate numbers of counters to add to their mats
  • Remind toddlers of what happened previously in the book and ask leading questions such as: “Remember, the last time there was a scratch at the door, two cats wanted to come in. Now there is another scratch at the door. How many cats do you think want to come in?”
  • Do the activity alongside the children on a big piece of chart paper or a felt board
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Understand the easier number patterns (counting by twos)
  • Be able to write and understand number sentences such as: 3+2=5
  • Have a working knowledge of addition with numbers from 0 to 10
Child care providers may:
  • Provide a variety of counting patterns for the children to identify (e.g., counting by threes, fives and tens)
  • Allow the children to work in pairs with their counting mats and counters (given a series of number sentences or having one partner retell the story, the child may be able to work independently without step-by-step modeling)
  • Reinforce addition by giving the children subtraction problems (retell the book backwards and allow the children to take away a given number of counters on the counting mat. “If Mrs. McTat had nine cats and two went home, how many cats would still be at Mrs. McTats’s house?”)

Suggested Books

  • Counting Crocodiles by Judy Sierra (New York: Harcourt Children’s Books, 1997)
  • Hippos Go Berserk!  by Sandra Boynton (New York: Little Simon, 2000)
  • Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (New York: Aladdin, 2001)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

Indoors or outdoors, this would be a fun activity with stuffed animals. The children can act out the book with stuffed animals that they bring from home. Change the text to correspond with the stuffed animal. Take photos and make a class photo book with a title such as: Ms. Forsman and Her Classroom Full of Animals. Below each photo (e.g., a photo of a child with stuffed animals at the door), the children can write the number sentence that corresponds with the photo. At the end of the book, you can add a class photo of all of the children and teachers and their stuffed animals, with a final total number below the photo.

Web Resources

Comment on this lesson