Math manipulatives. They’re so important for children learning math, but what are they and which ones do you really need? This post will tell you just that!
Step into any good math classroom and you should find lots of math manipulatives available for children to get their hands on.
When it comes to learning math, hands-on math practice is so important, particularly for young children.
Hands-on activities using math manipulatives help children explore and make sense of new math concepts. They also help to make learning math more approachable, engaging and fun.
When homeschooling or helping your child with math at home, it’s sometimes hard to know what math manipulatives you really need.
And while you don’t necessarily need a vast range of different ones, there are some really versatile manipulatives that are so helpful to have at home.
And so, today’s post will give you our run-down of some of the most useful manipulatives for learning math.
But first, what exactly are math manipulatives?…
What are math manipulatives?
A math manipulative is a tangible object that can be manipulated to help make sense of an abstract math concept.
For example, a math manipulative might be something that you can pick up, sort, count with, move, break apart or join to something else.
A math manipulative could be something as simple as a counter, wooden block or stone.
It could also be something more specific to a particular topic, like base ten blocks for teaching place value, or a teaching clock for learning to tell the time.
Why do children need math manipulatives?
Working with math manipulatives is a really effective way to help children make sense of new concepts and practise math skills.
When starting out with a new math topic, hands-on practice with math manipulatives is the perfect place to start.
For example, let’s imagine I’m introducing my child to number bonds to 10. The first thing we would do is explore how the number 10 can be broken down into different pairs of numbers. How would we do that? With math manipulatives!
We could use a stick of 10 unifix cubes and explore the different pairs of numbers we get when we snap the stick in two. Or we could use 10 counters and explore the different ways we could divide them into two groups.
By exploring math using manipulatives, children are actively engaged with what they are learning. This makes math more fun, and the learning outcomes more meaningful and memorable.
And learning with hands-on apparatus is a great fit for many children too, because most children love to get stuck in and explore with their hands. Young children particularly can’t help but touch, pick up, poke and prod things. And that’s exactly how it should be!
Our favourite math manipulatives
Now I’ve talked about what math manipulatives are and why they’re important, it’s time for a run-down of some of our favourites, so here we go:
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Counting bears are fantastic for lots of reasons.
Firstly, they’re really versatile. You can use them for counting activities (like the name suggests!), but also for sorting and patterning activities due to the range of different coloured bears in the kit.
These are a great option for young children (preschool, kindergarten) as the bears themselves are super sweet and are a good size and weight for little hands to manage.
The set of counting bears pictured is our set of ‘baby bears’ (all one size) by Learning Resources.
Unifix cubes or snap cubes
Unifix cubes are another really great math manipulative that you can use in lots of different ways.
The nice thing about these is that the little blocks are easy for young children to join together and break apart.
They can be used for counting, addition and subtraction activities, as well as patterning and sorting activities.
For little ones who aren’t yet ready to use rulers and tape measures, you can even use unifix cubes to make a simple measuring stick to measure objects around the house.
An incredibly versatile math manipulative with lots of uses.
(The cubes we have, pictured above, are unifix cubes by Didax.
A deck of playing cards
Playing cards can be used for lots of math games and activities. And the great thing? They’re inexpensive to buy and you may even have some at home already.
Card games are great for developing a whole host of math skills, such as number recognition, counting and arithmetic.
Plus, card activities and games are something that you can do together with your child. They’re a fun, interactive way to develop math understanding and practise math skills.
Pattern blocks are a great tool for young children who are learning about shapes. They can be used to make pictures and patterns.
Pattern block sets contain six different types of shape, and each shape has a particular colour.
My children and I love playing with the pattern blocks at home. (I must say they have a wonderful calming effect on us all when we set about creating patterns with them.)
Whilst making patterns and pictures, children are also learning how many sides each shape has, how many corners they have, as well as how they tessellate (fit together) with other shapes.
As you use experiment together with the pattern blocks, children will start to learn the names of the shapes as well.
Pattern blocks can be made out of wood, foam or plastic.
The set you see above are pattern blocks by Learning Resources. (This is the ‘brights’ set, made of plastic with extra bright colours).
So many math skills come into play when you work with dice!
Dot patterns on dice mean children are honing their counting and subitizing skills. Playing games or doing activities that use two or more dice means that children are adding numbers too.
You may well already have dice at home as part of a board game. You can also get big foam dice too, which are particularly fun for games with young children.
For older children, you can also get all sorts of fun dice with numbers beyond six. They come in all sorts of crazy shapes.
If you are looking for ideas for simple games to play with dice, We Are Teachers have put together a great roundup of 20 dice games.
While there are many math manipulates you can ‘DIY’ out of things you have at home, when it comes to teaching children to tell the time, investing in a teaching clock is so worth it.
Why? Because these clocks, just like any functioning clock or watch, have the cog mechanism that moves the hour hand automatically as the minute hand is moved. They also have coloured-coded hands and the minutes are marked on around the outside of the clock.
I would also recommend that instead of getting just one large teaching clock, you get a small set of mini clocks so that you and your child can both have a clock to do activities together at the same time.
The small clocks we have (pictured) are only 4 inches in diameter and they’re a great size for small hands.
The set we have, pictured above, are mini teaching clocks by Learning Resources.
Base ten blocks
When learning about place value, base ten blocks are incredibly helpful.
Base ten block kits usually come with following four type of block:
- units (single cubes),
- rods (sticks of 10 single cubes),
- flats (squares of 100 single cubes) as well as
- a thousand-cube (a giant cube of 1000 of the tiny cubes).
Base ten blocks are so helpful for showing the value of different digits in a number. They’re also a great math manipulative when looking at decimal numbers as well as things like addition and subtraction with regrouping.
(The base ten blocks in the picture above are part of a set we have by Didax, which can be found here).
As your child moves on to look at 3D shapes, these magnetic shapes are a great resource to have.
These kits consist of squares, triangles and hexagons. Each side of a shape has a magnet inside. The shapes stick together along the edges meaning you can create all kinds of 3D shapes and creations. Some kits even come with wheels so you can construct 3D vehicles as well.
You can learn so much math with these shapes. You can explore how the different 2D shapes fit together to make 3D shapes. You can unpick 3D shapes to see their nets (what the shape looks like opened up and flattened out). You can also count the faces and edges on 3D shapes you make.
And also, did I mention that they’re so much fun to play with, even without the educational aspect?
And there we have it! Some of our favourite math manipulatives for helping your child learn math. Thanks for reading!
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