5th grade students working with manipulatives

DIY Math Manipulative Ideas

In a time when children are spending too much time in front of screens, hands on learning can not only be effective, but also a fun way of learning math. Concrete learning with manipulatives is simple, cheap, can be done at home and students prefer it to the often boring and abstract traditional pencil and paper or computer based learning. It’s also great for learning the life skill of working and communicating with a team or partner.

DIY Manipulative Ideas:

  • Basic counting can be explored with any child friendly objects. Young children especially like to line up or stack things as long and high as they can.
  • Addition and Subtraction can be taught using counting objects, such as beans, pasta and rocks.
  • Multiplication and division arrays can be created using same size objects, such as cereal, crayons, and Legos.
  • Base 10 blocks can be made using slices of bread to represent hundreds, spaghetti for tens and macaroni for ones.
  • Counting, identifying, comparing, adding/subtracting and decomposing fractions can be done using colored pasta, playdough and candies.
  • Area models can be made using any square cereals, such as Chex or Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Volume can be taught using any box and a tape measure, ruler or a knuckle as a measuring tool.
  • Rounding scenarios can be explored using sets of plastic cups, silverware, snacks and party favors. Imagine you are planning a party for different numbers of guests. 
  • Measurement, adding/subtracting, multiplying/dividing fractions can be taught with cooking or baking with measuring cups.

I strongly encourage you and your child to spend some time together exploring what math looks like in the real world. I promise you that the math will be remembered and you will actually have a good time.