English: Bar Chart Icon

Bar Chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pipe Cleaners and Bar Charts.

I feel a table coming on.

What if you wanted to show how many toys in your grandchild’s room were yellow, compared to red or blue?

There are several ways to show this information.

Let’s use pipe cleaners to help.


  • Red, blue and yellow pipe cleaners
  • A blank piece of paper
  • Pen or pencil, crayon or marker
  • All the toys in the room your grandchild stays in at your house in a basket


  • Put each of the toys in separate piles, one for red, one for blue, one for yellow.
  • If a toy has multiple colors, pick one to assign it to.
  • Count the number of toys in each pile.
  • Draw a table on the blank piece of paper that has four rows and two columns.
  • Label the top of the left column, Colors
  • Label the top of the right column, Number of Toys
  • Write the name of one color in each cell in the first column
  • Count the number of toys in each pile.
  • Write the corresponding number for each color next to the row with the matching color.

What Will You Have?

You will have a 4×2 table that looks like this, with the numbers of toys you have counted.


Number of Toys







How Else Could You Show This Information?

You could make a bar chart using the pipe cleaners.

Lay out, end-to-end, the number of pipe cleaners that represent the number of toys for each color.

Line them up evenly on one end.

In the above case, you would have a row of three red pipe cleaners, five blue ones, and two yellow pipe cleaners.

You can see by the length of the blue pipe cleaner line that there are more than either of the other two colors.

What Good Is A Bar Chart?

Bar charts, invented by Scottish engineer William Playfair, are used to show information more easily than columns of numbers.

When the numbers get higher or you have more rows of numbers, it is very handy to be able to glance at a bar chart to see which row sticks out.

Playfair, for instance, showed the King of England, in 1786, the number of imports and exports of goods from Scotland to 17 countries using a bar chart.

With the bar chart, the king could see right away which were their most important trading partners and whether imports and exports were in balance.

The king also recognized that you didn’t have to speak English to understand the chart.

Instead of pipe cleaners, you could line up colored buttons, jelly beans or M&Ms for this activity.

This activity is a variation of a measuring activity at carrotsareorange.com


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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