5 Days of Making Math Fun: Must Have Manipulatives

Welcome back to Day 2 of the Making Math Fun series.  If you are just joining me, please check out the first post about the best games that teach elementary math concepts.

Today, I’m sharing with you what I consider to be the core manipulatives for any classroom or homeschool.  I use many of these manipulatives weekly, if not daily!  Through my experience teaching, I’ve learned that by using manipulatives, kids can visually see the concept.  It also appeals to multiple ways of learning – for the visual learner as well as to the kinesthetic learner.  Likewise, research has shown that if you can engage a child with multiple senses, the child is more likely to remember the information – and to apply it.

must have

Here’s my list of 10 MUST HAVE manipulatives for teaching math:

Hundred Board Set

1.  Hundred number board.  This is my go-to manipulative.  It is SO versatile.  Most educators use it to teach counting to 100 and to identify 1 more/less and 10 more/less, but it can be used for so much more!  Patterns? Yep.  Working on addition and subtraction?  You can use it.  Skipcounting?  Oh yeah!  Factors of a number?  Definitely.  There’s not a lot that you can’t use this little gem for!

2.  Deck of cards.  To me, this is another no-brainer.  Cards can be used to play battle games like traditional War (the larger card wins the war and the cardholder wins both cards) or addition/multiplication War (add/multiply the top 2 cards together; the largest number wins).  Here’s a great link that lists tons of alternatives of playing war with a deck of cards, as well as this one that lists games by age.  You can use cards for matching, sorting and grouping, ordering, and discussing odd/even – and that’s just for the lower elementary or younger kids!  You can also talk about reading multi-digit numbers, probability and statistics, sets, permutations, combination, and SO much more.  We keep a variety of cards – from several traditional decks to Phase 10.

3.  Dice (or should I say “random number generators” as I had to refer to them when I was teaching).  I keep a variety of dice around, from the standard 6 sided to multi-sided, blank to labeled in various way.  I can’t lie… I LOVE dice!  There’s just something about the physical movement of rolling the dice that is enticing to kids.  Most activities can be changed so that some form of dice can be used with them – to just make it more fun, or for the uninterested child, more of a challenge.  Here’s some blog posts where we used dice:  advanced counting, with tally marks, a pilgrim’s add/subtract game, letters and dice, and mapping the Iditarod game.

4.  Base 10 blocks.  I cannot imagine teaching math without base 10 blocks.  Kids can visually see what ten looks like, or a hundred… or a thousand.  They can visually determine which is bigger 10 or 100; 300 or 460; 7010 or 7000.  They can even be used to talk about fractions and parts of a whole, decimals, and percents.  So visual.  So simple.  So necessary in order to build a strong number sense.

5.  Pattern blocks.  From preschool through middle school, patterns blocks can be used to teach math.  Besides identifying shapes, sorting, and making patterns, they can also be used to study fractions, tessellations, and plane geometry.  Learning how to multiply 2 fractions couldn’t be easier after you study it with pattern blocks – and it makes sense, not just rote memorization  … and that’s just the beginning!

ref=dp_image_06.  Geoboard.  If you spend any time at all studying perimeter and area, you MUST have a geoboard!  It couldn’t be easier than counting squares.  Geometric shapes can be studied – from concave/convex to diagonals within a polygon.  Plus, for little hands, it’s perfect for working on pincher grasps and making free-form designs.  A tool for just about any age!  I ‘d recommend getting a double-sided one that has a circular pattern on the back.  This way you can also include learning about circles, angle measures, percentages.

7.  Tangrams.  No list could be complete with tangrams!  Tangrams combine the study of geometry with problem solving.  I mentioned yesterday that we LOVE Tangoes.  It’s such a challenge to try to complete each card, but the satisfaction of doing so is rewarding.  Plus, it typically leads into making one’s own creations – a math AND creative manipulative.  I love this wooden set, which includes a booklet of ideas.  Have a set of tangrams?  Well, you can go here to see ideas of people, animals, and things to create with a set of tangrams, or you can complete a puzzle a day with this calendar.

8.  Clock with geared hands.  We use a multitude of clocks to teach with – ones with moveable hands, ones with fold down flaps, dry-erase flat boards, and one with a geared hand.  My favorite is the geared hand, as it allows the child to see the progression on time as it occurs, hour by hour.  You can use a real clock and turn the knobs on the back, or this is a nice one that is kid-friendly.

51ebPvt3YfL9.  Geometric solids.  This is something that I think a lot of people overlook.  Many kids study geometry, but, outside of a Montessori setting, few study the geometric solids.  There are many different types, and depending upon the age of your children will determine what kind is suitable for you.  For the preschool to lower elementary kids, I prefer the traditional Montessori wooden ones. However, as the kids get older, from ages 9 through high school, I prefer ones that you can use for volume measurements (or to discover the formulas for surface and volume) or for 2-D study of the nets.

10. Scale and weights set.  This is another subject that a lot of people skim over, but I think it is critical.  This reinforces number sense in a real-life setting.  It can be used in the grocery store, at home, or in a business setting.  Scales can be used for problems solving, addition facts, and even algebraic equations. Personally, I’m fond of this one as a beginning balance for small children.  It comes with weighted bears that can be later used for problem solving (ie how many blue bears are needed to equal a red and a yellow?) or liquid measurements.  We own this beginner metric weight set.   We also use this number balance, which is nice for addition facts, but is limited to only that purpose.

There are so many other great manipulatives, but this is my MUST HAVE list!  Most are versatile, and can be used to teach multiple math concepts.

Do you have a favorite manipulative to use to help teach math?  Tell me about it!

If this is your first time visiting Montessori Tidbits, don’t miss the great activities and ideas that are shared on our Facebook page and G+ profile!


Note:  Manipulatives above are linked to my Amazon affiliate code.  The very small amount of money that I make on Amazon is used to support our curriculum needs for each school year.  Photos are either personal photos or taken from Amazon.

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  1. Teaching Stars says:

    I picked up cuisenaire rods after hearing so many people go on and on about them. I admit, I was confused when I first took them out and wondered what the big deal was…. but now I am a HUGE fan. I couldn’t imagine teaching without them.

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