When we think about methods for teaching children math, the first things that probably come to mind are flash cards, repetition and memorization, pie charts, workbooks, and the like. But one method you may not have thought of, or even heard of, is the use of educational manipulatives and games.
What are the benefits of using educational manipulatives and games for learning math?
First of all, you may be wondering, just what are educational manipulatives? Our official definition of “manipulate” means “to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). In other words, it’s doing something or handling something with the hands. But how does this relate to teaching math?
Well, when you want to teach children about money, what do you do? You pull out some coins and some bills and you explain how much each is worth and how they relate to one another. This is a hands-on approach to teaching the value of money using manipulatives.
Educational math manipulatives are things the students can actually touch and pick up with their hands. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Manipulatives can give the student a three dimensional hands-on picture of the concepts they are learning. And, best of all, they are easy to use.
Manipulatives are usually cubes, rods, tiles or cards with or without numbers on them. If your child is just starting out, you would use the ones without numbers. One example of this is Cuisenaire rods.
Cuisenaire rods are a collection of rectangular rods, each of a different color and size. They help students visualize problems involving fractions and can be used to teach the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. After your child learns the basics, then you can use the cubes, rods or tiles with numbers and symbols on them. These are used just like flash cards.
But what if you want to teach about geometric shapes or fractions or patterns?
First, there are geometric manipulatives. These can be used to teach children about cylinders, spheres, cubes, pyramids and cones. Some geometric manipulatives are whole. Others are divided into parts to make it easier to demonstrate the adding or subtracting of those parts. Suppliers of geometric manipulatives usually provide an activity book with many lessons to help the student understand geometric relationships.
There are also manipulatives that teach about fractions. These are usually made out of foam or plastic. They can be used to help the student understand the relationship between whole things and parts of things.
Manipulatives that teach design and patterning skills are very popular. Perhaps it is
because they are often used in crafts. Crafting can be fun, but how many children realize they are developing their problem solving skills while they are doing crafts? Pretty sneaky, huh?
Another way to enhance learning is with games.
We all know children need to learn their math facts. Although some children can learn these facts the first time they see them, most children learn by seeing them over and over again. They learn by repetition. Simply using flash cards or workbook pages can be boring and not very stimulating.
But by using a game, children get the needed repetition in an interesting, fun way. And there are games available for all levels of learning. For example, the game Sum Swamp is for beginners who need practice with addition and subtraction. Totally Tut is another game that gives practice in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as well as order of operation practice.
Does your child need practice with logic, strategy or pattern recognition? Tic Tac Twice is a fun game that will surely help. Players use two boards at once. A good move on one board may not be a good move on the other. Players must place four playing pieces in a row across, up, down or diagonal on one board. This game is based on algebraic principles.
Geoshapes is a game that is a little more challenging. Students will plan strategies and calculate risk while getting practice with their math. The goal is to be the first to fill a figure with combinations of geometric shapes.
Whatever your child’s learning goals, there are games and other tools to help. Educational manipulatives and games are some of the often-overlooked tools in our educational arsenal that can be used to both teach and entertain at the same time. While traditional methods of teaching math that have proven their value should certainly not be abandoned, educational manipulatives and games can and should be used as a resource to overcome those short attention spans for which most children are famous.