These aid problem-solving and prompt kids to visualize abstract concepts, enabling them to get a kick out of checking their answers and to enjoy the learning process just as if it were a favorite game.
How math manipulatives work
The ‘having fun’ theme is the key to using these tools well. For this reason, many math manipulatives look like toys – for example, multicolored miniature bears help with color recognition, pattern making and even the early stages of graphing. Geometric shapes help with learning the difference between a triangle, say, and a square and can also be used to demonstrate how combining shapes can create new ones. Other tools take the form of interlocking cubes for multiplication and subtraction skills, blocks or rods to encourage visualization of proportions and fractions, and Chinese geometric puzzles, or tangrams, which promote spatial orientation.
Homemade math manipulatives
Parents that are keen to reinforce their child’s learning at home can make use of many everyday objects to replicate the sophisticated tools designed for the classroom. For counting purposes, any collection of small items can be used, such as pennies, buttons or erasers. Sorting exercises can be carried out with multicolored pasta and geometric shapes can be created using toothpicks and tasty treats such as marshmallows or soft lozenges.
The fun of approaching math in a novel way can also be transferred to a child’s use of a computer, as there are great online math manipulatives available from sources such as DreamBox. The software programs are designed to be adaptive so that a youngster’s individual learning styles and abilities can be accommodated, and are reflected in the level of difficulty they encounter; when and where extra hints are provided and how the learning program is paced to meet their needs. As the online experience is also great fun, this can be of enormous benefit to the child’s ability to understand, learn and make genuine progress in math.
Benefits of using math manipulatives
One of the best things about using online math manipulatives is that they encourage students to embrace math in a positive way, building confidence in the child’s own ability and giving them a sense of achievement by rewarding effort as well as every right answer and every problem solved. As the learning experience is personalized, the child finds it easy to grasp the concepts being communicated and the themes and games make the whole experience highly enjoyable.
Students whose early experience of learning is positive are more likely to approach later academic challenges with increased self-assurance and to want to succeed at whatever they do.