Using manipulatives to reinforce math concepts

When I was growing up, we were forced to learn math the old fashioned way, with pencil and paper. I had only heard about manipulatives when I had kids and became interested in supplementing their education at home. Even though I had gotten through the Calculus III in college, I have always felt my mental math processing ability was deeply lacking, as shown by my post regarding dyscalculia.

I wonder if it would have helped if I was able to use manipulatives. I truly believed I would have been more excited with math if it were more visually interesting and could see concepts in 3D form rather than stuck on paper in a 2 dimensional world. I’m pretty convinced you can learn things better when you can really grasp the concepts in a concrete manner.

So, because of that, I have collected a nice selection of inexpensive math manipulatives. My rather frugal side me has had me on the hunt for anything that could be used as a manipulative and always keep an eye out for bargains. I’ve found things discounted at Walmart (counting bears and buckets), Marshall’s (geometric cylinders and geometric forms from Guidecraft), Tuesday Morning (counting lego bricks and buckets), and sets of beautiful mini erasers (great for patterning) from Target (around August) and even the Dollar Tree. I think the only math manipulative I actually purchased from an actual educational store was a geoboard and that was only a few dollars anyway, but a great addition to have.


And of course, there’s always garage sales. I have been fortunate to find some great pattern blocks for about 25 cents at a garage sale. At another garage sale, I was able to find some great science materials too. I can not wait until garage sale season starts up again.

Then again, sometimes you don’t even need to purchase ready made manipulatives. You can use almost anything as a counter, and you can even make a lot of the manipulatives yourselves, like geoboards using wood and finishing nails.

One of my favorite re-purposed object for math manipulatives are flat marbles. I was able to help my oldest daughter (who is in first grade) understand the concept of multiplication using flat marbles:


And flat marbles of different colors are also great for patterning too.


Here’s a link for printable math manipulatives.

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6 Responses to Using manipulatives to reinforce math concepts

  1. Sarah says:

    Oh, thank you for these! I remember using geoboards in school. I loved them. Come to think of it, I could probably still entertain myself with them even now! I can’t wait until the garage sale season gets going around here. It’d be nice to find some useful things.

  2. Sue Cummings says:

    I found manipulatives to play such an important role for my son, who’s always been a very hands-on learner. He learned best when he was crawling around exploring things for himself; or collecting things, sorting them in different ways, and playing games with them; or building things and figuring out how they worked. I work for a company called DreamBox Learning (full disclosure!) — one of our teachers just published some good ideas in a blog post, introducing variations on the Candy Land game by playing with different manipulatives instead of the usual 2-color cards. If your child likes this game, there are some fun ways here to help nurture her mathematical thinking. The post is at

  3. growinginpeace says:

    Sarah – I love garage sale/thrift store shopping. There was a teacher that ended up having a garage sale once and was selling a lot of her old materials. I picked up a few science things and books. It was a great score that day.

  4. growinginpeace says:

    Sue, thanks for posting. That’s some cool stuff there. Those are some great ideas. Always looking for new things to try. šŸ™‚

  5. Sarah says:

    I nominated you for a blog award today, just because I have so much fun reading your blog!

    If you’re interested, here’s the link. šŸ™‚

  6. growinginpeace says:

    Sarah –

    Thank you so much. My first blog award, how neat is that? I’ve never gotten one before. Now I have to share the love with others.


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