Many children need hands-on experiences to solidly understand mathematic concepts. Manipulatives can turn any well developed math curriculum into a hands-on curriculum. If a child is getting stuck on a particular math concept, bring out one of the must have math manipulatives described in this article to help teach the concept in a concrete and visual way.
Unless you want to reinvent the wheel, start math instruction with a solid math curriculum as a base. There are a variety of math curricula available to homeschoolers. CLICK HERE to read my review of math curricula I have tried.
My Base Curriculum
I use Jump Math for Kindergarten and Evan-Moor as my base math curriculum. CLICK HERE to read about why I switched to Evan-Moor math.
I use Miquon math and Life of Fred as math supplements. CLICK HERE to read my review of Miquon Math.
CLICK HERE to see my top curriculum picks for money and time telling skills.
Must Have Math Manipulatives
This abacus splits each row of 10 beads into 5 of one color and 5 of a second color. This split helps children quickly calculate and visualize the numbers. I use this abacus when teaching new calculation concepts and have my children complete practice problems using the abacus as needed.
I selected and purchased these Base-10 Blocks by Learning Resources after carefully looking over the various possibilities on Amazon. I selected this set as it came with enough 100s, 10s, and 1s blocks to use for teaching regrouping of larger numbers. The blocks are plastic and I am very happy with the quality. They have been a perfect companion to the teach concepts of 2-digit numbers with my 1st grader. I anticipate pulling these out on a regular basis as we learn more complex concepts in subsequent grade levels as well.
Cuisenaire Rods are perfect for adding that visual component to math computation activities. I picked out the wood small group set for durability. I use these daily with 1st grade Miquon Math activities and also pull them out to demonstrate how to find missing numbers in problems. CLICK HERE to read about how I also used this set to help me teach 2-digit place value and number sense while I was waiting for my Base-10 blocks to arrive.
In addition to computations skills, Cuisenaire Rods can also be used to teach fraction and geometry concepts.
This Math Balance is like a glorified number line. You get the benefits of a number line with the addition of being able to see if you have the right answer. It can be used for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and finding the missing number.
This play money set comes in a sturdy wooden box and has been a perfect companion to use with our money skills curriculum. The coins are the correct size and color to match traditional money. The bills look different from real bills, but they do have the numbers in the correct placement.
It is also helpful to have a variety of counting materials on hand. I like to use counting bears, unifix cubes and MathLink cubes. Any small toy or object (e.g., animals, craft puffs, etc.) could also be used. Counting materials are helpful in teaching one-to-one correspondence, for sorting activities, and in creating and completing patterns. I also like to use counting maniupulatives when first teaching word problems in the early grades. As I read the word problem, I have the child physically create the problem with the math manipulatives to figure out the answer.
Summary of Must Have Math Manipulatives for K-3:
Must have math manipulatives can help children develop number sense and number concepts. Adding math manipupatives to any high quality math program can make it more hands-on for learners who need concrete experiences to learn math concepts. For K-3rd grades, an abacus, Base-10 Blocks, Cuisenaire rods, math balance, a money set, and a set of counting objects will help the child have the needed manipulative-based experiences they need to learn math concepts.