Walk through any educational supply store, and just try not to be tempted by the brightly colored plastic manipulatives that line the shelves. Try not to pass out when you check out the prices. I'll admit, as opposed as I am to dropping loads of cash on these unnecessary add-ons, I still get dazzled by those little bears and fruits and imagine buckets of them lining our shelves. But I know better than to put those in my basket. We have something much, much better.
You see, I firmly believe that math manipulatives are more effective if they already hold some connection to a child. When we first started counting, we lined up matchbox cars, plastic dinosaurs, and whatever else Ella was already playing with. Same thing when we started addition and subtraction. We didn't have to hunt for a suitable box of objects to hold a math lesson. Math happened anywhere, anytime. As it should.
When we started multiplication, we noticed we needed a lot of small objects to make this work. First, we used acorns or acorn caps. Then, I noticed Ella developed a particular attachment to some colorful glass beads. She calls them Dragon Jewels. I made a little drawstring bag for them, and time seemed to stand still every time she and her sister took them out to line them up or hand them out to stuffed animals or arrange them around the room. Those quickly became our manipulatives, and they work perfectly.
|8 x 3|
|4 x 6|
Small. Portable. Special.