Friday, February 18, 2011

Math Manipulatives

Thanks again to Matthew Mandelbaum for yesterday's post on multiplication.  I've never been a "math person," but I'm find that I'm actually enjoying our math lessons and Ella's much less cranky about the subject than she was at the beginning of the year.  This year we spent a lot of time moving away from manipulatives, as the focus shifted to learning how to do a lot of things in her head and on paper.  Now that we're moving into multiplication, we once again needed something tangible to understand the process.

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
They are ridiculously inexpensive, and you can find them at any craft store.  I think I even saw bags of them at The Dollar Tree.  That's right, a bag of them for a dollar.

Small.  Portable.  Special.

Manipulative Magic.


  1. We used small beach stones and smooth fragments of quahog shells. I love how they feel. I also recommend practicing arrays by making cookies. :)

  2. Oh yes. The glass beads. I got mine at walmart in the artificial plant aisle. My husband stole some to use as "twilight pool" in the LOTR card game...never got those shiny bits back.

    I'm not a math enthusiast, but I taught Family Math in college and they have GREAT hands on conceptual lessons and games that you make yourself (using toothpicks or paper and pencil).

  3. Ahhh . . . cookies. Yum.

    Lora, yeah, we stole some from my husband's stash. Thankfully I don't think he'll notice, since it's been years since they've seen the light of day. :)


Thanks for visiting my site! I love hearing from readers, and I do my best to answer all questions here in the comments section. Thanks for reading and commenting!