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Necessary Math Manipulatives in the Early School Years

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Jonathan Wylie • updated: 9/11/2012

Students engaged in active learning are more apt to master new skills. Using math manipulatives in early school years is the perfect way to accomplish this. Students who apply a hands-on approach to learning will often find more success.

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    Why Use Manipulatives?

    Does using manipulatives in early school years really enhance learning? By representing math concepts in different ways, manipulatives can help students develop conceptual understanding of these concepts. Each student learns differently, and adding manipulatives to your curriculum can help to reach those students who may benefit from a hands-on approach. Manipulatives can also encourage talking about math and explaining concept at hand. Today, many textbooks and testing materials ask older students to explain their final answer and how they arrived at the solution. Using manipulatives encourages the oral communication of math ideas. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, applying the use of math manipulatives in early school years can strengthen the math picture in the heads of your young students.

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    Math Counters

    Math counters are one of the most versatile of all math manipulatives. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can easily math counters be adapted to an early childhood curriculum. Lakeshore Learning has a wide variety to choose from, including basic circles and links. Basic math counters can be used for counting, sorting, making patterns, and introducing basic math concepts such as addition and subtraction. Equation tiles, along with the math counters, can continue the introduction of addition and subtraction concepts by showing the problem and then working it out with the counters.

    In addition to using math counters for making patterns, you can also purchase sets that are specific to making patterns. They will include patterning boards to help guide the students in making different patterns.

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    Geometric Shapes

    Basic geometry concepts can be introduced and reviewed with geometry manipulatives. Whether your students need review of 2D shapes, or are ready for 3D concepts, there are many options to choose from. When introducing 3D shapes to those who are ready, seeing the actual 3D shapes is much more helpful than looking at 2D sketches of the shapes.

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    Place Value Blocks

    place value blocks Using place value blocks is another way to reinforce counting, as well as basic place value concepts. I often used them when we did the daily calendar. Students would put the date on the calendar, then we would use the place value blocks to show the number of today's date. So, if it was the 22nd of the month, we would pull out 2 cubes and 2 rods. A quick and easy to introduce a concept that they will see in their early elementary curriculum.

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    Telling Time

    In today's world of digital clocks, telling time is often a skill students struggle with mastering. The small individual clocks can be used to work on telling time. In the preschool classroom, you can just focus on telling time to the hour or even half-hour. The goal here is not master of time telling skills. You are introducing the concepts so that when they come across it again in early elementary classrooms, it is familiar. With the addition of a large clock, you can show the time on the larger clock and have the students copy it on their individual clocks.

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    Hands-on learning with math manipulatives in early school years will help to establish a strong math foundations for your students. When you send them off to early elementary school, they will take with them the confidence you instilled in them by allowing them to explore and describe math concepts with the use of manipulatives. For ideas and activities to help you teach preschool math, read Preschool Math Games to Teach Math Concepts, by Elizabeth Wistrom.