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Swing into fun with five little monkeys

This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.

Parents: Just hanging around? Swing into numeracy fun with this new take on a classic game.

Dive into the world of playful learning and discover how the classic game 5 Little Monkeys can boost both numeracy and executive function. Learn more about foundational numeracy skills and get step-by-step guidance on how to play “5 Little Monkeys” in a way that enriches your child’s cognitive growth. Let’s jump in!

Before we play: how does this game help improve decision-making and numeracy skills?

The game “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” offers several benefits to children’s numeracy development:

  • Counting Skills: The repetitive nature of the song allows children to practice counting backward from five to one. Each time a monkey falls off, the number decreases by one, reinforcing the concept of subtraction by one.
  • One-to-One Correspondence: As children sing the song and act it out, they can match each monkey to a corresponding number, helping them understand that each number represents a specific quantity.
  • Subtraction Introduction: The game introduces the basic concept of subtraction in a fun and interactive way. Each time a monkey falls off the bed, one is subtracted from the total, helping children grasp the idea of taking away.
  • Number Recognition: By using their fingers to represent the number of monkeys left on the bed, children practice recognizing and representing numbers using their fingers.
  • Predictive Skills: As the song progresses and monkeys fall off, children can predict how many monkeys will be left, reinforcing the concept of sequential number order.
  • Cognitive Flexibility: In advanced versions of the game, children are encouraged to show numbers using different finger configurations, promoting flexibility in thinking about numbers.
  • Memory and Recall: Remembering the sequence of the song and the corresponding actions helps enhance children’s memory skills, which are crucial for numeracy.
  • Problem Solving: Children are encouraged to think about questions like “What happens next?” or “How many monkeys are left?” This promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills related to numbers.
  • Physical Representation: Acting out the song or using props (like monkey and bed cutouts) provides a tangible representation of abstract numerical concepts, making them more accessible to young learners.

What is childhood executive function?

At its core, Executive Function is a set of cognitive skills essential for planned and focused behavior, or put simply: decision-making. These skills encompass inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Put simply, EF helps guide our actions, emotions, and thoughts, acting as a sort of “control center” in the brain.

Ready to Play? Here's how to turn "5 Little Monkeys" into an EF and Numeracy-Building Power Activity!​

The EF Way to Play! 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

Objective: This engaging activity helps children practice remembering rules and counting backward using the popular song “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Description: The song captures young children’s attention by combining actions with a catchy tune. Using hand gestures with rhymes and songs can enhance children’s attention skills.

Starting Game Levels by Age:

  • 2-3 years: Game Level 1 – Model the Song
  • 3-4 years: Game Level 2 – Where are Your Monkeys?
  • 4-5 years: Game Level 3 – What Happens Next?
  • 5+ years: Game Level 4 – Can You Show Me Another Way?

Materials Needed:

  • Characters and Scene (5 monkeys, 1 bed) made from construction paper or felt, or any objects you have around. Hint: they don’t need to be monkeys!
  • A wall or poster board to display the monkeys and bed (or just lay the items on a table or couch, or even the floor).
  • Tape if you are using a wall or poster.


Duration: 10 – 15 Minutes.


Key Executive Function Skills:

  • Working memory
  • Cognitive flexibility

The song captures young children's attention by combining actions with a catchy tune. Using hand gestures with rhymes and songs can enhance children's attention skills.

Playing the game


  1. Model the Song: Display the bed and monkeys. Introduce the song to the children and sing it, removing one monkey for each verse.
  2. Where Are Your Monkeys?: Engage children in counting with their fingers as you sing.
  3. What Comes Next?: Challenge children to predict the next part of the song.
  4. Can You Show Me Another Way?: Encourage children to show numbers using different finger configurations.

Reflection: After the activity, discuss with the children about their observations, challenges faced, and strategies they used.

Wrapping Up

Additional Ideas:

  • Try the activity at different times and settings.
  • Let a child be the “Leader” who removes the monkeys.
  • Act out the song or make it more inclusive by varying the genders of the monkeys.


Book Recommendation: “Five Little Monkeys” by Eileen Christelow