Making math real to kids is one of the best ways for them to actually grasp the material. Math can be very abstract and many kids just don’t grasp that as easily. Math manipulatives make math so much more concrete and real.
The easiest way I’ve found to make it real is use real objects. We could with cars. 1 car plus 2 cars is…3 cars! They can see it right in front of them. We reinforce the abstract by writing the equation on a white board, paper, chalkboard, etc.
I guarantee that you have at least 10 manipulatives just waiting to be used! (Unless you’re a minimalist, in which case please send me an e-mail and tell me your secrets!)
- Coins. Now granted, not a lot of people have coins these days. I know we don’t keep many around. But pennies are great manipulatives. I prefer to just use pennies so when they start learning money there is no confusion as to what one cent is.
- Toys. Toys of all sort can be used. Blocks, cars, dolls, etc. Anything that is relatively small is a great manipulative.
- LEGO. Okay, LEGO bricks are toys, however, they get their own category because they are amazing as math manipulatives. The fact that you can click them together makes them so versatile. I wish I could go into how amazing they are here, but keep an eye out on a series of math with LEGO.
- Food. Cheerios, fruit loops, gummies, fruit, etc. Anything with small enough pieces that you can count at least a few of them. The benefit here is that they eat as they go (added benefit if it’s healthy food). Admittedly, we sometimes use candy. M&Ms, skittles…they’re great for sorting!!
- Bottlecaps. I have to really concentrate to remember not to get rid of bottle caps because it’s so automatic to just get rid of them. I find them from milk cartons (we drink almond milk, so we get the smaller soda sized caps!) and snapple lids. I like my caps to all be the same size so I don’t often kid random ones that we don’t get a lot of.
- Game Pieces. Playing cards, dice, random pieces, etc. If you own any non-virtual, non-computer/tablet/video game, you probably have something of use in a game! Checkers pieces are especially great.
- Shoes. A bit random, but shoes make great manipulatives (assuming they aren’t really dirty, like ours). I especially like shoes for learning skip counting. They typically come in pairs so it’s natural to count by 2’s. Shoes can be used for other math concepts though, as well. Clean socks can work too.
- Crayons/Markers/Pencils. Operating on the assumption that most homeschoolers will have at least one type of writing/color utensil, these can be great counters! You can sort them by color and size. Counters, fractions, multiplication, addition. So many uses.
- Notecards and Post-It Notes. We’ve been known to use these as dot cards, number cards, to make number lines, and all kinds of manipulative type things. The post it notes are always a hit with us. I’m not sure what it is but sticky things are always popular.
- Toilet paper/paper towel rolls. Most of us will be able to collect a decent amount of these in no-time at all. We’ve cut them up into smaller rings and they work great for math counters. Plus they roll, which is always a fun addition to math.
This is by and far not an exhaustive list. I wanted to include items that most people would have in their homes. We’ve bought a few things specifically for their advantage in math (magnetic shapes, magnets in general, and the like). Just look around your house and I’m sure you’ll find something of use! Math manipulatives do not have to be expensive and perfect. Use real life items and not only is it cheaper, but it makes more sense.
This is day 3 of my 10 day series on Making Math Fun. Don’t miss the rest of the topics!
For some other great math activities with things you probably already own, check out these great links!
- Muffin Tin Math from Live Over C’s
- LEGO Math with Prompts from Little Bins for Little Hands
- Giant Car Graphing from Life with Moore Babies
- Mising Addends with Toobs from Royal Baloo
- Flip Flop Addition from Sugar Aunts
- Number Building with Loose Parts from Little Bins for Little Hands
- Blow Up Ball Math from There’s Just One Mommy
- Toob Counting from Royal Baloo
- UNO Place Value War from Childhood 101
- UNO Flip Addition from Childhood 101
- Subtraction Squish from There’s Just One Mommy
- Math with Trains (especially Thomas the Tank Engine) from Royal Baloo