Manipulatives facilitate conceptual understanding of math.
Manipulatives facilitate conceptual understanding of math.

Sometimes, kids don't like math because it's too abstract. In other words, it doesn't seem real to them. Fortunately, teachers can help kids see the real-world application of math by teaching it in an engaging way. Make math real by adding math manipulatives to your classroom curriculum. Adding hands-on items helps children actively participate in mathematics instead of just computing mathematics with a pencil and paper.

Number Sense

A young person's counting practice needs to include specific items to count. Counters can be as simple as beans, straws, or elbow macaroni. Other options are teddy bear counters or linking cubes from a math supply store. Use any of these to count and represent numbers. Base-ten blocks help children determine place value. These are blocks of different sizes that represent ones, tens and hundreds. They can also be used to represent decimals -- ones, tenths and hundredths. These blocks are beneficial when comparing values, adding numbers and subtracting numbers. You can also use game pieces, like dominoes and dice, to add, subtract and find values of ten.


A variety of objects to weigh and measre should be available. A pan balance set up to compare weights of items gives the children a measurement sense that learning conversion rates of pounds to ounces will not give them. Place centimeter gram cubes on one side of the pan balance and an orange on the other. Also, Measure with the centimeter gram cubes the length of objects. Estimating before measuring helps children build measurement sense. Scales, measuring tape, trundle wheels, meter sticks and rulers can all be used to develop measuring skills.


Sorting activities for young children are a way to build order, find patterns and look for relationships, which builds algebra sense. Buttons, jelly beans, coins and beads are all sortable in different ways and can be arranged in patterns. Building this algebra sense at a young age is important preparation for learning more elaborate algebra concepts. Algebra tiles, which are made up of small tiles, large tiles and rectangles, help represent and solve algebra problems. The tiles come in two colors, representing positive and negative.


Fraction study emphasizes how the part compares to the whole. A set of miniature cars, baseball cards or building blocks are all easily turned into fraction manipulatives. Fore example, the child finds the fraction of the cars that are race cars, or he finds the fraction of the building blocks that are blue. Food is also easily turned into a fraction set. Peel open an orange and the fraction is already sectioned out. The other counters -- such as beans, poker chips and straws -- can be turned into fraction sets. For example, a student can determine 3/4 of a set of 20 beans.