8 Must-Have Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities *** And An Amazing Math Resources Giveaway!

Math is one of those subject areas where hands-on learning activities are critical. When I was an elementary school teacher, our school used a textbook-style curriculum. Math, like the other subjects, was done in a workbook. There were pictures and visuals, but hands-on activities and resources were sadly lacking.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities

Disclosure: I received free curriculum set in exchange for this post. All opinions are always my own.

The Value of Hands-On Math Activities

When I began homeschooling my own kids, I began with this kind of curriculum because it was all I knew. But I quickly realized that to really understand math concepts, the kids needed to have resources they could touch and hold and manipulate. Only by handling and using these materials could the kids really see and internalize the concepts.

Hands-on resources give kids something physical to manipulate which is critical for the concrete stage of learning that young kids are in. Numbers are fairly abstract concepts when written in a workbook. But when kids have physical items to use, the numbers begin to make sense. These hands-on resources can be used for counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, comparing, fractions, learning shapes, making patterns, and so much more.

If you’re homeschooling little people- preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary especially- there are some hands-on resources that will make learning math concepts much simpler. Even older kids who are struggling with grasping some math concepts can benefit from using hands-on resources. And, after you read through the list, you can win an awesome kit with these great resources and more and a complete math curriculum from Sonlight! (Many of the resources pictured here came from that kit!)

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities


Having something physical to count can help kids to visually understand what numbers mean. They can help kids add, subtract, multiply, and divide. They can help kids compare groups to see which has more. Often counters are cute and colorful- like counting bears or dinosaurs. But you can also use items you have around the house- like toy cars or legos.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities

Tangrams/ Pattern Blocks

Sometimes called tangrams, sometimes called pattern blocks, these come in a variety of brightly colored geometric shapes. You can find them in wood, plastic, and you can even print them out from your home computer- although I think the plastic and wood ones are best for physical manipulation.

These can be used to teach kids the basic shapes. They can be arranged into patterns. Kids can explore with them independently to see how shapes fit together- two triangles can fit together to make a square!- or you can give kids pre-drawn shapes, and they can figure out how to fit the tangrams in the shapes.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities

Colored Tiles

Flat colored tiles can be in any shape, but most often come as small squares. They are various colors. These can be used to group and sort. They can be stacked and compared (the beginning stage of understanding a bar graph). They can be used as counters. Kids can match the colors of the squares to other objects around the house. They can use the squares to measure- how many squares long is your table, the countertop?

You can also practice fractions with the tiles. Create a stack with two different colors. Then talk about how much of the stack is one color. If there are two red tiles out of six total you’ve got 2/6.

Base Ten Blocks

Base ten blocks are counting blocks that can be used to show groups of numbers. Often these come as singular blocks, strips of ten, and flats of one hundred. These can be used to physically demonstrate place value by illustrating how many one blocks it takes to make a ten or how many tens are needed to make one hundred.

Centimeter Cubes

These small colorful cubes are one centimeter on each side and typically they weigh one gram each. They are usually interlocking. These cubes, like counters have many uses.

They can be linked together to demonstrate addition and then separated to demonstrate subtraction. They can be weighed and used to show kids how a gram of weight feels. They can be connected together to illustrate area and perimeter. They can be used for counting. They can be connected together in ones, twos, threes, etc. for skip counting.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities


A geoboard is a flat, plastic board with small pegs. You use rubber bands to make shapes with the pegs. These can be used for learning basic shapes as well as to demonstrate area and perimeter. Most geoboards have pegs in a circular shape on one side, so you can also talk about circumference and diameter as kids are more advanced.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities


You may not think of flashcards as very hands-on, but they can be used in a hands-on way instead of as a tool for just drilling kids on numbers. Kids can match counters with flashcards. They can arrange cards in order. They can use flashcards and counters to demonstrate smaller and larger. They can be used for number recognition- find all the cards that have a four, etc.

One Hundred Chart

A one hundred chart is, just as described, a chart with one hundred numbered squares. As with flashcards, this resource can be used in hands-on activities and not just as a chart that kids have to fill out in a textbook. They can be used to have kids practice number recognition- pointing to numbers. They can be used for adding or subtracting by having kids move forward or backward from a number on the chart. They can be used when learning skip counting. If you have a wipe off blank chart, kids can practice writing numbers on it as well.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities

Win Sonlight’s Mathtacular!: A Bundle of Amazing Resources for Hands-On Math 

Sonlight, the well-known literature-based curricula publisher is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year! In honor of the 30th, they are offering a giveaway every Wednesday from now through 9/30/20, as well as a grand prize of a complete Sonlight All-Subject Package of your choice!

This week you can enter to win an amazing math bundle that includes all of the hands-on resources I’ve mentioned as well as so much more. This bundle includes all four of Sonlight’s Mathtacular! DVDs. These DVDs feature funny stories and crazy demonstrations of math concepts. Beginning with Mathtacular! and increasing in difficulty, these DVDs are appropriate for approximately grades K-6.

The bundle also includes a word problem workbook and answer key that go with Mathtacular 4. It includes all of the manipulatives I’ve mentioned and more, as well as a Mathtacular Manipulatives DVD and a Math Manipulatives Guide to help you use all of the great manipulatives for a variety of hands-on math activities.

Manipulatives for Hands-On Math Activities

You can enter here:

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