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  • Writer's pictureAshley

Easy Guide to Manipulatives

As an educator, I use words like phonics, phonemic awareness, manipulatives, differentiation, rote-learning, and so much more educator jargon, on a regular basis. I forget sometimes, that parents do not always know what I am talking about. And many parents feel uncomfortable asking. So, let's take a dive into what some of these terms mean... Today we start with manipulatives!

What are they?

A manipulative is any concrete object that can be used to explore a concept in a hands-on way. The great thing about them is that most things can be used as manipulatives! There are no rules about what can or cannot be useful, as long as it has a direct link to the learning you will use it for.

Why use manipulatives?

The use of manipulatives is important because it gives a child the ability to experience a concept. Take math, for example. Children learn different levels of place value from kindergarten through fifth grade, but it is still a very abstract concept that many of them struggle to understand. However, if we introduce the use of manipulatives and allow students to physically make numbers with math sticks and cubes (more about that later), they have the opportunity to turn an abstract idea into a concrete one.

The kinesthetic learning style is another reason that manipulatives are great for learning. Kinesthetic, or tactile, learners are those who learn through doing. Although not all students are kinesthetic learners, most, especially younger ones, need to move their bodies quite often. Manipulatives give students the opportunity to learn through doing, moving, manipulating, creating, and every so often, destroying.

How are manipulatives used?

There are so many ways that teachers, tutors, parents, and families use manipulatives to help their children learn. So many ways, in fact, that no one could ever keep track of all of them. Which is great news for teachers and parents, alike. There are so many choices!

Manipulatives can be used during direct instruction when a child is being taught a concept. The manipulatives may be used to work out the answer to a problem or illustrate the concept during the lesson. Manipulatives can also be used when students are practicing a concept. For example, if a child is completing two-digit subtraction with regrouping, they may use manipulatives to help them make and solve the equation. Last, students may use manipulatives when the learning is more playful, such as games and free exploration of concepts.

Manipulatives at home?

I am a firm believer in using manipulatives at home. Does anyone have struggles with homework that may be made easier with manipulatives? But what can you use at home?

Check out this list:

  • Dry cereal

  • Dry pasta

  • Playdough

  • Pompoms

  • Dice

  • Cards

  • Dominoes

  • Paper plates

  • Straws

  • Popsicle sticks

  • Loose parts - small toys, stones, blocks, shells, etc.

  • Beads

  • Buttons

  • Yarn

  • Plastic cups and water bottles

  • Muffin papers

  • Nuts and bolts

The list goes on and on (and on)! I'm sure you have many of these things in your home. If not, the dollar store has many of them available for a dollar.

Most often, students will be more engaged in a lesson, game, or homework when it has a hands-on component. I suggest that you set some ground rules about playing with the manipulatives when it is time to use them for learning. This typically solves a few problems before they begin.

If you or someone you know is struggling through homework with their K-5 students, give Keep It Up Tutoring a call. We exist to empower students to find joy in learning and reach their goals. Individual tutoring can give your child fun, hands-on learning with their unique strengths and areas of growth in mind, as well as a major confidence boost! Call today so that we can discuss how to get your child on a path to success.

What is your favorite way to use manipulatives at home? Let me know in the comments!

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