5 Ways to Use Math Manipulatives

January 24, 2018
Written by:
Tasha Swearingen

Looking for more ways to reinforce math concepts for your children? Try math manipulatives! Depending on your child’s learning style, math manipulatives may be supplemental or your child might have needs that require them. If your child is a visual-spatial learner or one who is hands-on, you may have already figured out the benefits to math manipulatives. Perhaps you have a bin of math manipulatives but have no idea where to begin. If you feel like your child could benefit from math manipulatives but need some fresh ideas on how to use them, keep reading!

But First, Get CraftyCreate your own math manipulatives and use for multiplying, dividing, ratios, and more!

Before you do anything, you’ll want to create your own magnetic math manipulatives. To get the most benefit out of them, you’ll also want to have a magnetic dry erase board or paint an old cookie sheet for a budget-friendly alternative. A magnetic board will enable you to stand and teach in front of your children instead of being confined to a table. If you create just 25-50, you’ll have more than enough to do most elementary tasks for which manipulatives would come in handy.

To create magnetic math manipulatives, use hot glue to adhere strong round magnets to colorful pom-poms. That’s it! If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even change your math manipulatives out for each holiday/season! Just head to the hobby store and grab pom-poms that match the current or upcoming holiday.


You can make a “caterpillar” by lining up several fuzzy pom-poms on the board and drawing its antennae and legs. Then, have your child count how many pom-poms you used to make the caterpillar. Change the number out so your child has a chance to count various sets.


You can make the caterpillar “grow” (addition) or “shrink” (subtraction). Have your child write out the number of pom-poms that make up the caterpillar. If it “grows” by three more pom-poms, how long is it? Now suppose it “shrinks” by five pom-poms. Let your child discover how many are left.


To use your pom-poms for multiplication and division, you’ll need a few sandwich bags. For each “set,” open a sandwich bag and use a magnet to attach it to the board. Drop a few pom-poms into each bag, making sure you use the same number of pom-poms in each bag. Use this to demonstrate multiplication facts to your child, such as “two groups of three.” To do division, start with a specific amount of pom-poms and hang up bags. Then, evenly distribute the pom-poms into the bags, demonstrating such facts as “six (amount you start with) divided by three (number of bags) equals two (number in each bag).”


One benefit to using multicolored pom-poms as math manipulatives is that you’ll be able to demonstrate the ratio of one color to another. On the board, demonstrate for your child that for every two green pom-poms there are four red pom-poms. Once this concept is established, invite your child to figure out other ratios using the rest of the pom-poms.


You can use your math manipulatives to show your child what fractions mean by separating the pom-poms by color. Place three green pom-poms on the board and add two red pom-poms. Explain to your child that 3/5 of the pom-poms are green and 2/5 of the pom-poms are red.

Use math games and manipulatives to reinforce math concepts. Math manipulatives are useful for teaching the basics of number sense as well as for higher-order math skills. What are some other ways you’ve used math manipulatives?

For even more practice with these and other math concepts, invite your child to practice skills using online math games!  








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Tasha Swearingen

Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Sciences from Florida State University and is working on her MBA through SNHU/Berklee School of Music.