Math Manipulatives: Time to Play!

Getting ready for a new curriculum this year, or using something new?  Before using all those dice, blocks, rulers, snap-cubes, counters, etc. for teaching, let your kids play with them!

For me, this has always been a hard step.  I love having everything packaged up in its place, ready for it’s proper use.  So, I know it might be hard unpackaging all those tools that will be used for math lessons, but consider trying it out!  Your kids will be learning…as they play!

Here’s what to do:

1.  Start with hauling out the math tools you have that are sacred.  We’re getting started with Math-U-See and because I have leftover Cuisenaire Rods from my classroom days (and I’m too cheap to buy the kit that comes along with the program), we’re using Cuisenaire Rods with Math-U-See this year.  I started with my big box of Cuisenaire Rods, but you could start with any math tools you use.


2.  Let your kids explore the math manipulatives.  You can even explore along with them. Build, connect, create – Play, play, play!

3. Observe how your children interact with the tools. You may find that you don’t even have to explain how they work when you begin teaching because the kids have already figured out the basics!

4. Give yourself a pat on the back for breaking out the new tools to play with.  Now that your kids have explored them, they can focus on the math curriculum at hand (although, you might want to reward a job-well-done in math with some extra play time at the end!).

Our Experience

My 5 year old’s mission was to make a train (below, right) that led from the office to the living room.  She was continually counting to see how many different colors she was connecting.   She discovered that every color rod had a different number representation.  When she discovered this, she put them in order from smallest to largest (below, left) to make stairs. 


Through her play, she also discovered there were several ways to make rods the same height.  She did this by attaching various rods together to make 9.  I pointed out that it was interesting that 9 can be made using different numbers…later this will come in handy with addition families.


My youngest (3) wanted to make a purple snake.  She sorted out all of the purple colors to create her masterpiece.


Have you opened up and let your kids explore your new math tools?  If not, I’m challenging you to break out those new math tools for play.  Whether they are blocks, teddy bear counters, pretend money, etc., let your kids play with them.  You might be amazed to see what they discover! 

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