Using manipulatives in your homeschool doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It’s an easy way to captivate your visual and kinesthetic learners while also engaging your kids in the learning process. Be sure to grab some FREE math mats at the end of this post!
What are Manipulatives?
Manipulatives are mainly used in math education, but they’re also useful in phonics as well. The main purpose of a manipulative is to give hands-on, concrete understanding of a theoretical concept.
Your kids can manipulate – touch and move – an object to understand the concept behind the math problem. It helps them to actually see the math problem in action.
While manipulatives seems like a fancy word, don’t be intimidated by it. Because you probably already use them in your homeschool.
When your kids need to learn addition and subtraction, for example, the easiest way to experience those math concepts is to count small items, adding or subtracting from the group to get a final answer.
And did you know that even Charlotte Mason advocated for the use of manipulatives in early arithmetic studies? Now, she didn’t call them by our fancy new name, but she listed some practical suggestions, like buttons, beans, and counters.
Benefits of Manipulative Use
Manipulatives in education give visual and kinesthetic learners exactly what they need to understand concepts. In a developmentally appropriate way, kids can learn even more complex concepts if they can see it in action and also handle the parts of the process.
Using manipulatives increases active learning in our kids. And it helps them to actually see mathematical relationships. Sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed in order for a concept to click.
And the interesting part about manipulatives is that they’re not just for young elementary kids. They can be useful even in upper level subjects like Algebra.
Practical Ways to Use Manipulatives
Math concepts and operations are the most obvious choice for manipulatives. But have you considered that you can use them with beginning readers as well?
All About Spelling encourages use of counters while teaching phonics sounds to early learners.
So, for example, when my daughter was practicing beginning, middle, and ending sounds recently, we lined up 3 counters. For the word “hot” she segmented the sounds by pulling down a counter as she said “/h/” “/o/” “/t/” in order. In this way, All About Spelling used kinesthetic and visual learning cues to represent each sound.
You could also teach syllables in the same way.
What kinds of items can you use?
- Dry beans
You can definitely find objects around your house, the local dollar store, or on Amazon!
Here are some great options online:
Some of my favorites, though, for cuteness and appeal are Iwako Erasers. I use them with my piano students for exploring concepts on the keyboard, but they’re also really useful in homeschool math.
Check out how we use Iwako Erasers for math manipulatives at 4onemore.com and grab some FREE math mats too!
Abby is a former public school teacher, now homeschooling her five children. She’s in the trenches just like you and knows it can be challenging to be home with your kids all day while you struggle to keep up with the housework and educate your kids (and maybe even work on the side!). She blogs over at www.4onemore.com and hosts the Homeschool with Moxie podcast.