Starting Your Math Manipulative Library

     It is been found that some people experience anxiety and even a painful feeling when doing math. However, math does not need to be feared or create anxiety. Engaging students with real-life experiences and objects can create a love for math. Over the years I have found that there are 4 key mainuplatives every early childhood teacher needs to teach math. While there still are some standard-specific manipulatives that are not in my list of 4, this list is a great start and resource for building and brainstorming a math library.

by Anni Reinking

4 Math Manipulatives to Start a Math Library

Dominoes (multi-colored):

~Activity 1: Addition and Subtraction- Students add and/or subtract the two side of the domino and write the answer or find a domino with that number and match it to keep the game going.

~Activity 2: Sorting- Engage students in the simple task of either sorting colors or sorting by dots.

~Activity 3: One to one correspondence and matching- Play a simplified dominoes game. Match one side of the domino to a like side of another domino and keep the game going. Ask students not only to match dotted sizes, but also state how many and write the number.

Decks of Cards (Activity 1 and 2 can also be used with cards):

~Activity 4: Greater Than, Less Than- Play a game of war. Students are able to understand greater than and less than numbers, along with equal. For a simplified version, take out the face cards.

~Activity 5: Number Line- The guessing game is a great for students to get engaged and work with the number line. Separate the cards so you have only one suit set (i.e. all the hearts). Take out the face cards. Lay the 2 and the 10 down so they are on a number line. Then begin to have the students guess the next card by giving them the verbal clue of higher or lower. (Ex. Is it the number 5? Lower. Is it the number 4? Yes!) Once the card is guessed lay it down on the “number line.”

Dice (Activity 1, 4, and 5 can also be used with enough dice):

~Activity 6: Graphing have the students roll dice a specified number of times and have them graph the number rolled. Discussions of “how many more” or “how many less” can be a great way for teachers to engage with students.

~Activity 7: Ten Frames/Number Talks- Roll dice; transfer that number to a ten frame. The teacher or a lead student can engage students in a number talk. (Ex:

~Activity 8: Measuring- (will also need unifix cubes) Roll dice. The number that is on the dice corresponds to the number of unifix cubes that need to be collected. Once the cubes are collected the students walk around the room to find something that is that many cubes long. (Ex: Roll a 5. Take 5 unifix cubes. Find that the book is 5 unifix cubes wide.)

Unifix Cubes (Many of the activities above can be changed to add in counting or measuring with cubes):

Activity 9: What’s missing?- Start with an amount, usually 10. Show the student you have ten. Put them behind your back and break them apart. Show the students how many now (while keeping some behind your back). Have the student tell you how many are behind your back. Keep the game going.

~Activity 10: Fractions While fractions are usually taught after Early Childhood grades, it may be something teachers begin to introduce. Teachers can engage students with simple fractions such as half and fourths by using unifix cubes. Take 10 cubes, half are red and half are black, put them together, and talk to students about the concepts of fractions.

Overall, you do not need a room full of maniuplatives, or the brightest and newest items for your students. There is a lot you can do with simple items if you begin to brainstorm and think outside the box.

This blog post was written by Dr. Anni Reinking and alumni of Illinois State University. Check out her bio here!


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