I love living math! So much so that I even wrote a book about it: Loving Living Math. It’s special for a lot of reasons, but I’ll focus on one of those reasons today – living math offers opportunities for real-life, meaningful, hands-on learning.
Using math manipulatives to help children understand concepts and think mathematically is one of my favorite methods! I’ll be talking all about the benefits of various types of math manipulatives in this post.
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What are math manipulatives?
Math manipulatives are tools we give children that they can touch and move – ahem, manipulate – in order to understand various math concepts. These tools can be store-bought, homemade, or even simple objects you have around the house.
Why are math manipulatives helpful?
The purpose of manipulatives is two-fold. First, they help children to form a concrete understanding of abstract concepts. When a child can “see” that 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 whole by using fraction manipulatives, the oftentimes tough concept of fractions gets a whole lot easier. There is now a picture in the brain of what a fraction really is. In other words, the manipulatives have helped build brain connections and file away important memories.
Second, manipulatives can help to meet learning styles. If your child is kinesthetic (learns through movement) or visual (learns through seeing), manipulatives provide the perfect learning environment. I’ve found, though, that even children who normally thrive linguistically (through language) need math manipulatives to help them “get” certain math concepts because their learning style is words, not numbers.
What are my favorite math manipulatives?
I’ve been asked several times over the years which manipulatives are worth having on hand. They aren’t always inexpensive, so it’s important to spend money on those that give the most bang for our buck.
Over the years (in homeschooling and teaching in public schools), I’ve consistently found these 10 manipulatives to be the most used and most crucial for understanding tough math concepts. Having these (or making your own) will be very helpful tools in your homeschool for many years.
10 Must-Have Manipulatives
When I taught in public school, there were plenty of manipulatives on hand. Some of them were used over and over again, while others sat on the shelves. Not all math tools used in public school translate well to homeschooling, but the ones I’ve included below do. So, this list has passed two very important tests of experience with children. This is a cream-of-the-crop lineup for you.
1. 100 Board – This can be used to help teach skip counting, all operations, prime numbers, square numbers, and much more!
2. Balance – There are many types of primary balances that will compare weights of all kinds.
3. Base Ten Blocks – The concepts of place value and regrouping can be very abstract and hard to grasp. This set of blocks provides a concrete and visual understanding that makes math make more sense.
4. Fraction Circles or Fraction Tiles – Fractions can be tough to grasp for many children, too. A set of fraction tiles or circles helps children see and build relationships between fractions – and that makes a world of difference in understanding.
6. Square Color Tiles – We use these tiles all the time in the early years. They come in handy for patterning, measuring, graphing, and more.
7. Snap Cubes – This is another manipulative we use all the time in the early years. The cubes are pretty much used for similar purposes as the square color tiles with even more uses like determining volume and building geometric figures.
8. Student Clock – A simple, hands-on clock is imperative for helping children understand minutes within hours.
10. Tessellation Puzzles – Tessellations are repeating patterns gone wild. They repeat up, down, and all around without any gaps or overlaps. Puzzles like the one I’ve linked challenge brains!
Nice-to-Have Math Manipulatives
I just couldn’t pass up sharing these honorable mention math manipulatives. If you really like the way manipulatives enhance your homeschool and have extra money to spare, each of the following can also be very beneficial tools for mathematics education.
Again, in some cases, you can create your own homemade versions. You might also be surprised to find a few things you already have around the house as math manipulatives!
How to use math manipulatives
If you aren’t sure how to use math manipulatives, don’t worry! Thankfully, they aren’t too hard to use. Listed below are some blog posts that explain how to use the various tools. You will quickly gain confidence when teaching with them. Also, don’t be afraid to use them to make up your own math activities!
Luckily, there are many books, how-to videos, and how-to blog posts to give you learning ideas for any type of manipulative. Often, a quick Google search will help you find the ideas you need!
Learn how to use specific math tools
Are you excited about math manipulatives?
I hope so because they are SO good for your homeschool! Learn more about living math and how to incorporate it successfully in your homeschool with my easy-to-read and easy-to-implement how-to book for parents – Loving Living Math.
More Living Math Resources
Check out these two masterclasses if you’d like to learn more about living math and manipulatives. You will expand your knowledge and be able to confidently apply the concepts in your homeschool. There are so many benefits to living math!
More Math Ideas for You