What Are Manipulatives?


During the primary learning years, typically kindergarten through fifth grade, children need a combination of physical, visual and auditory stimulation while learning. To meet the physical learning needs of students, teachers may use manipulatives during and after instruction. Manipulatives help students complete simple math problems (e.g., counting, adding and subtracting), build science projects and dissect parts of systems.

What are Manipulatives?

  • Manipulatives are tangible objects that students (normally elementary age children) use to learn math, reading, science or social studies concepts. The term "manipulative" refers to the student's ability to physically touch or manipulate an item. Young children often enjoy using manipulatives because tangible objects make learning more engaging and feel like playing a game. Some examples of manipulatives used in the classroom include blocks, tiles, models (of the body or other systems), puzzle pieces, playing cards and dice.

How Manipulatives Are Useful

  • Children are typically introduced to manipulatives pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. Children use manipulatives to practice mathematical concepts such as counting, adding and subtracting. Teachers and parents can purchase math manipulatives from educational stores or make their own by collecting small objects that are easy for children to handle, such as buttons, beans or bottle caps. Reading manipulatives include puppets during story telling or reading, flash cards to practice spelling and sight words, letter tiles, and magnetic letters.

Using Manipulatives to Teach Basics

  • A simple way to use math manipulatives involves using two-colored tiles or circles. Working with a small child, show the child each side of the tile. Explain that each tile has two colors. Let the child practice adding the tiles together, but make sure he uses only one side to add. Then, when the child is ready to begin subtracting, teach how to subtract using the other color side. For example, give the child 10 tiles on the yellow side. Ask the child to turn two tiles over to the red side and count how many yellow tiles are left. Then show him how to write 10-2=8.

    Manipulatives may also work in reading activities to improve a child's reading comprehension, reading fluency and vocabulary skills. Use purchased or homemade flash cards to quiz students on how to spell words, the meaning of words or explaining a synonym for the word on the card.

Places to Buy Manipulatives

  • Parents and teachers may purchase manipulatives online from distributors such as Fat Brain Toys, Discount School Supply and Teacher's Paradise. You may also buy manipulatives from brick and mortar stores like Lakeshore Learning, Target and Wal-Mart.


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