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10 math manipulatives must-haves

math manipulatives pattern blocks

The following 10 math manipulatives are not only great for teaching math concepts and vocabulary, they also encourage imaginative play and exploration.

Young children need hands on interaction with 3-dimensional manipulatives when learning math.

Using manipulatives makes it easier for kids to discuss their math thinking with you and thier peers, enables them to understand concepts and find multiple ways to solve problems, and helps them to demonstrate new knowledge and skills.

Before spending money on math manipulatives, test them against the following criteria:

  • The math manipulative is terrific for teaching multiple math concepts
  • It is tough enough to withstand constant use by children and regular washing
  • It can be used for math games and imaginative play
  • It passes testing standards and is certified to be non-toxic and child safe
  • The math manipulative can be used for learning more advanced math concepts as children grow

10 math manipulatives worth owning

The following links will take you to The Learning Things Educational online store. The math manipulatives are also available from

1. Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are my number one winner as far as using a math manipulative for more than one purpose. They are definately versatile. They come in six colors and shapes - yellow hexagons, green triangles, blue diamond shaped rhombus, red trapezoids, orange squares and a smaller beige rhombus. Pattern blocks can be used to teach every thing from number sense, graphing, tessallation, fractions and more.

2. Colored wooden blocks

Colored wooden blocksColored wooden blocks come in many shapes and are invaluable for teaching geometry, symmetry, number sense, counting, patterns, and more. When children build with them they have practice problem solving and planning, activities such as stacking blocks teach children about balance and gravity and building with blocks encourages development of social skills as kids play together.

3. Unifix® Cubes

Unifix cubes Unifix cubes connect on all six sides and can be laced together. As students work on patterning, counting, and operation skills, the square cubes build small-motor and eye-hand coordination too. Set includes cubes in 10 bright colors and an activity sheet.

4. Base ten blocks

As preschool and kindergarten students play with base 10 blocks, they learn the vocabulary of ones blocks, tens blocks, hundreds blocks and thousands block. The children learn by play that 10 hundred-blocks are the same size as one thousand block, that 10 tens-blocks are the same size as one hundred block, and that 10 ones-blocks are the same length as 1 ten block. Children that are ready can begin to build numbers with them. E.g. 185 - one hundred block, 8 tens-blocks and 5 ones-blocks

Base 10 Blocks

5. Fraction circles

Fraction Circles These fraction circles are made of foam and are magnetic. They are terrific for teaching students about fractions and their relationships. When young children begin using them they see, feel, and compare equivalent fractions and as they get older the fraction terms become meaningful from their previous play experiences. Use the large 9" foam fraction circles on any magnetic surface. Set includes 51 proportional foam magnetic pieces showing fractions in a whole, halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, eighths, tenths, and twelfths.

6. Two sided counters

2 sided counters are about one-inch in diameter and have one red side and one yellow side. These math manipulatives are great for teaching number sense and number operations. Put 5 in a container, have the children shake them, throw them, then count - 3 yellow and 2 red equals 5 all together. Children continue shaking, throwing and counting their results. When ready they begin to record their results.
Two colored counters

7. Geoboards

Geoboards are used in the exploration and recognition of shapes, designs, spatial relationships, angles, fractions, area, perimeter, symmetry, and coordinates. This geoboard is 11" x 11" with pin grids on one side. The knobbed pins hold rubber bands (included) in place.
Extra elastics are available and come in various colors and sizes.
geoboards and elastics

8. Large geometric solids

Geometric Solids

These 3D set of geometric solids have a common 3" dimension to illustrate relationships between area, volume, shape, form and size.

The plastic shapes include a cone, a sphere, a hemisphere, a cube, a cylinder, a rectangular prism, a hexagonal prism, a triangular prism, a square pyramid and a triangular pyramid. Preschool and kindergarten children learn new vocabulary as they play with the blocks.

9. One inch blocks

One-inch blocksOne-inch cubes are durable 1" hardwood cubes that come in six colors and are perfect for beginning counting, patterning, color recognition, teaching basic geometric concepts and building. They are also good for beginning measurement activities such as - Show me how many one inch blocks are as long as the side of the book?

10. Pocket chart with number cards 0 - 100

I included this pocket chart in my list of ten best math manipulatives because kids love touching the numbers and counting along or pointing to them with a long ruler, constantly ask questions or make observations such as, "Why do all the numbers in this row start with 6? All the numbers in this row end with a zero." As they play with the number cards they see number patterns, learne about skip counting, become aware of odd and even numbers and increase their understanding of numbers. Be sure to place it low enough so children can reach it easily.

This number pocket chart is washable and comes with 100 numbered cards colored differently on reverse. Includes  a teaching guide.
Pocket Chart 0 - 100

All of the above are available from "Learning Things - The Education Store", a site that is a favorite of educators and parents who homeschool.

Attribute Blocks

Okay, I have to add #11!

I love teaching with attribute blocks and had to add them to the list. They are so good for teaching logical thinking to young children. Choose attribute blocks from

Turn manipulatives into games

The items below make it easy to turn math materials into games.

Number spinners
number spinner

Small dice

Easy online shopping...

Go to the "Learning Things - The Education Store", math manipulatives page or if you prefer, shop from

Canadian shoppers visit for lower shipping rates. ss

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