Kids need manipulatives to help them conceptualize and understand the abstract concepts happening in their math homework. Most kids, because of the developmental stage of their minds, cannot grasp abstract concepts until they are in around 5th or 6th grade. Young kids need to see the crayons they are adding or the halves of an apple, then around third or fourth grade they are able to imagine the apple halves. It’s not until late elementary or the beginning of junior high that they can add numbers without reference to concrete objects at all.
If your child’s school uses manipulatives regularly, great! But even if they do, I recommend you have a set at home as well. We have our own box of what we call Math Toys.
One of my favorite and most used parts of this set is the pattern blocks we have.
We use them for:
- identifying colors and shapes
- making patterns: “Green triangle, orange square, green triangle, orange square, what do you think comes next?”
- noticing and defining characteristics of different shapes: “How many angles does a square have? How many sides does a square have?”
- making more complex geometric patterns, like making a flower using the shapes or a boat or a purely recurring pattern.
- objects to help us count or do arithmetic. “Five green triangles plus four brown parallelograms makes how many shapes?”
- Understanding fractions. The process of moving from concrete to abstract starts all over again with fractions. Don’t feel bad if your fourth or fifth or eight grader needs to see the fractions to understand. I still often need to see what’s happening before I understand my kids homework.
- Learning spatial skills (like puzzles)
Some other math toys we have in our kit:
- linking cubes
- math facts flash cards
- play money
- real money (coins)
- play clocks
- counting bears with colored cups (use them as counting manipulatives, for teaching ordinal numbers, and as a color sorting game.
- an abacus