On the Bus – Bay Area Discovery Museum

On the Bus

Children will practice addition and subtraction by telling math stories to figure out how many people are on the bus.

Materials Required

  • One paper bus for each pair of children
  • 20 counters (e.g. marshmallows, pom poms, Unifix cubes) for each pair
  • Paper and writing utensils
  • Numeral chart 1-20 for reference
  • Some additional counters for extension


  1. Start with your group all together in a circle to provide examples. Make up and tell a story involving a small number of people getting on and off the bus at different stops. As people get on and off the bus in your story, track the numbers visually by moving counters on and off the bus image.
  2. Each time the number changes, invite children to tell you how many people are on the bus and ask, how do you know? Encourage more than one child to share different strategies of how they found out the total number of people on the bus.
  3. Draw the story on a piece of paper that all children can see. Use a simple image to represent people (e.g. dots, X, stick person). Count the total and write the number.
  4. Tell the children that now they are going to tell their own stories about people getting on and off the bus and figure out how many people there are. If possible, split children into pairs strategically so they can support one another.
  5. Each pair of children should have one bus image and 20 counters. Children should take turns telling stories and working together to figure out how many people are on the bus.

Additional Tips

Try these add-on activities:

  • Record each pair’s story by having children write and draw about their stories, then collect them into a book.
  • If caregivers are present, encourage them to get involved in supporting children’s storytelling and math skills after a facilitator provides an example.

Links to Creativity

Research demonstrates that foundational math understanding predicts long-term success of school achievement measures more than any other content area (Duncan et al., 2007). When children have a strong understanding of numbers before beginning kindergarten, they are far more likely to demonstrate long-term proficiency not only in mathematics but also in literacy over their academic lives. In this activity, children practice basic numerical understanding within the context of an engaging story. This benefits young individuals by providing them the opportunity to experience math in a way that goes beyond traditional number drills.

Supporting research includes:

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J. Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., … Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446


This activity was contributed by the Bay Area Discovery Museum. ©2016 Bay Area Discovery Museum. For more information and resources see BayAreaDiscoveryMuseum.org

On the Bus

Scroll to Top