If you’re planning to start homeschooling or are revamping your homeschool toolbox, you may be looking into adding math manipulatives for more hands-on practice. There are dozens of different types of manipulatives that can be used and many can be made with materials you have on hand at home. This post will share our family’s must-have math manipulatives for homeschool and how we use them!
What are math manipulatives?
Math manipulatives are physical objects that are used to visually demonstrate a mathematical concept. Manipulatives allow the student a hands-on, visual approach to learning and understanding the math problem at hand.
Math manipulatives are perfect for kinesthetic learners but also help any students understand mathematical terms and concepts. They were also my absolute favorite part of math class while in school 🙂
There are curriculums that are based completely around using math manipulatives for instruction. Math-U-See is a popular homeschool math curriculum that heavily uses math manipulatives for example.
Why do you need math manipulatives for homeschooling?
Math manipulatives can help your kids understand a hard to grasp concept. The visual demonstration can break down the components of the problem making it easier to understand and remember. Manipulatives are also a great way to explain missed or incorrect problems by breaking it down.
They can also sometimes be seen as a reward or “fun” activity for the kids and play is such an important part of learning. My kids will choose a lesson with manipulatives over a regular lecture any day!
Remember, manipulatives help your kids “see” the math problem. Especially when teaching math to early elementary children – they sometimes have a hard time with abstract ideas and problems so having the physical pieces in their hands can be very helpful. When they go to solve a problem in the future they can visualize the manipulatives in front of them to help them solve the problem.
Manipulatives can also help put a math problem into real-life context for kids. Using manipulatives allows them to see how the math problem plays into daily activities like telling time, counting money, and taking measurements.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are ‘affiliate links’. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.
What are the must-have math manipulatives for homeschool?
There are quite a few “basic” math manipulatives in my opinion – ones that can be used for multiple concepts and problem types. These are the ones that we currently use each week for our math lessons and believe are must-have math manipulatives for homeschool!
- Base Ten Blocks
- Judy Clock
- Pattern Blocks
- Play Money
- Playing Cards
- Unifix Cubes
Exactly what you’d think it’s for – demonstrating the weight and volume of objects. This is great for working on greater than/less than problems also! We’ve had this balance for several years.
I would highly suggest splurging for this one if possible. This one includes the bear counters and has removable buckets so you could work with liquids if you wanted.
Base Ten Blocks
Base ten blocks are probably used just as much as our counters. They are great for demonstrating place value, operations, counting, measurement, and more. We have a large set of base ten blocks that includes a mat that was extremely helpful in teaching place value, carrying, and borrowing.
We use counters for just about every type of math problem. We own several different types of counters but our favorite is our counting bears. They are more fun to sort and use in solving problems. You can use counters for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems. They are also great for learning numbers, number recognition, counting, using a number line, skip counting, sorting, probability, percentages and lots of other concepts.
You can grab our free counting bears printable activities – and get access to our printable and resource library by subscribing to our blog updates!
Counters can be as simple as rocks, beans, skittles, legos or any other small object that you have in bulk. Here’s a few sets of actual counters that would be perfect in any homeschool:
Dice are great for teaching probability, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and lots more. You can use dice from one of your board games on hand or even make your own. We have the game Tenzi but you could even purchase a large set of dice like this one to create your own games with.
Geoboards are another fun way to demonstrate mathematical concepts (and shoot rubber bands across the room ;)). They can be used to show lots of geometry concepts, shapes – especially types of triangles and other polygons, perimeter, area, fractions, types of lines. We have even used geoboards to create letters, mazes, and even map out constellations.
There are lots of flash cards and worksheets to pair with your geoboards also. We like these from Oriental Trading.
This is one of our favorites manipulatives. Both girls learned to tell time rather quickly and I know this manipulative was a huge part of that. This is great for explaining the concept of time, allowing the kids to adjust the clock to the current time and quizzing them.
There are lots of free and paid worksheets and activities that you can use with the Judy Clock too!
We have had several sets of play money over the last few years. We tend to “misplace” coins and bills because it’s one of our most used math manipulatives. Identifying bills and coins, counting money, making change and even regrouping are skills you can teach with play money. The newest set we have includes a credit card (that we don’t use) and some blank checks. I thought this was a great addition to our play money set as we have been practicing writing out pretend checks and working on number words.
Pattern blocks can be used to demonstrate many mathematical concepts – obviously patterns, but also angles, symmetry, measurement, perimeter, fractions, relation of shapes to one another or spatial relationships and other geometric concepts.
We have this Melissa and Doug set that comes with a storage box and wooden cards for different animals and shapes to create. Eventually we are moving up to this set of pattern blocks so we can create large designs and patterns plus work on concepts for upper level math.
You can also use pattern blocks to create tangrams. Tangrams begin as a square that consists of 7 pieces that you create images or solve puzzles with.
Playing cards probably aren’t the manipulative that comes to mind when you think of math instruction. We use these quite frequently though to play short, simple games to work on mental math abilities.
Here’s a link to some really fun activities to use with your playing cards.
Unifix cubes or linking cubes are great for counting, showing number relations, making comparisons, sorting, creating patterns, fractions, place value, estimating and our favorite activity – creating animals and structures with them!
Using Virtual Math Manipulatives
Although not quite the same as having the manipulatives to hold and touch, virtual manipulative sites can be helpful when teaching a new skill or for extra practice if you don’t have the manipulatives on hand. I’ve gathered some websites that offer virtual math manipulative play if you need extra support or don’t have some of these manipulatives on hand.
That’s our list of must-have math manipulatives for homeschool. There are quite a few other popular manipulatives out but these are the favorites that we use almost weekly during our homeschool day. If you have a favorite manipulative that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!