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.