Math Manipulatives

Math manipulatives do not have to break the bank. In fact, one could use beans as counters. But it’s so nice to have blocks, tiles, teddy bears, cubes, interconnecting cubes and other such math visual aids.

Recently, I realized my first grader was a little overwhelmed by first grade. Not terribly so, not to tears, but just enough to cause behavioral issues. Children misbehave when they are either bored or overwhelmed. This first grader was overwhelmed by some of the abstract concepts and bored by some easier ones.

Boy and girl arranged colorful tiles in patterns

Tiles arranged in different patterns.

Although I believe school should be made attractive to children, I am not the kind of homeschooling mom who believes in entertaining the children in order to make them learn. We use songs to memorize concepts up to a point. Learning is hard work and it prepares the children for the hard work they will have to put forth as adults. So I don’t make things “easy and fun” too much. But I pay attention to their frustration level.

If they feel that school is fun, I think I have failed in some way. School is fun and learning is fun in and of itself, because it educates you, not because it entertains you. Educate, the word, is made up of two Latin roots. One means “out” and the other one “to take.” Education is the thing that takes you out of yourself and into a new place. You have changed your mind by acquiring knowledge. You have been taken into a new you, a new experience, a new way to experience life. And the process continues as long as you let it, by reading and learning for the rest of your life. Now that’s fun.

Girl stacks a wooden block tower

One-inch blocks used as bricks for a tower

So now that I have bored you with my philosophy of education, let me get back to the subject matter: math manipulatives. We pulled out different sets of tiles and blocks and let the first grader go to town with them. They got stacked and rearranged in different ways according to her fancy. My third grader joined in because it looked like so much fun. It was therapeutic for everybody.

Yes, we step away from the books and play with 3D objects to understand two tens three ones and six tens five ones. But we also use these manipulatives for fun. It’s good for the kids to play during school with the very objects we use to teach them abstract concepts.


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