Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team
Please Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure (link) for more info.
‘There must be some playful way of teaching new math concepts to first graders.’ If this thought hits your mind often, especially when you see the child struggling through basic operations, here is good news for you! There are manipulatives available as teaching alternatives to help kids do math fluently, and confidently.
Manipulatives for teaching math come as proven solutions for bringing first-grade students and kids closer to each other. Researches reveal that these toy-like, tangible, and easily maneuverable items are quite effective in building math skills at the elementary or primary school level. For instance:
- Catherine A Kelly in her research article ‘ Using Manipulatives in Mathematical Problem Solving: A performance-based analysis’ suggests that manipulatives develop problem-solving skills, which in turn, improve understanding of the concepts.
- Robert Scott Ligget in his study ‘The Impact of the use of Manipulatives On the Math Score of Grade 2 Students,’ cited the work of Driscoll, 1983; Sowell, 1989 who found that the students, by using manipulatives, understand math concepts better than others.
- Ross, R., & Kurtz, R. (1993) in their work ‘Making manipulatives work: A strategy for success.’ have outlined the effectiveness of manipulatives in teaching math concepts as these promote concretization of abstract learning and allow longer retention of the solution methods.
Apart from providing strategy-based learning, the manipulatives act as assistive tools to teach math to children having dyscalculia or other co-morbidities. The learning difficulties require classroom interventions that provide alternatives to reading, writing, and performing operations on numbers. Manipulatives provide those interventions to teach students of first grade and above.
So, what manipulatives can you use for your first grader child or student? To help you with the search, we have annotated here the best manipulatives that can help learn basic mathematical operations, the concept of time and money, place value, and other related ones.
Best math manipulatives to build number skills in first grade students
1. Math Dice
Math dice offers multi-utility learning support to young learners. All the operations expected to be done fluently by a first grader can be taught playfully with this manipulative. So, when you are stuck on the point of teaching double-digit operations, fractions, place value, etc. you can employ this dice set as your teaching companion.
This age-old math manipulative continues to prove its relevance in modern teaching environments, by taking the effort out of the concept dissemination process. Not only that, this dice collection can help revisit concepts learned at the preschooler stage and can ease brushing up the basic skills like counting, subitizing, etc.
2. Alytimes Counting Stick Calculation Math Educational Toy
Anne Lafay, in her work ‘Effects of Interventions with Manipulatives on Immediate Learning, Maintenance, and Transfer in Children with Mathematics Learning Disabilities’ suggests that counting sticks can bring seamlessness in knowledge transfer while teaching math operations to students at first-grade and above.
This research-backed manipulative can augment number sense and supplement conceptual learning in children. It helps encourage kids to coin and implement strategies, enhancing their problem-solving skills in the process.
This manipulative is a befitting addition to the teaching tools that promote an inclusive model of education. It assists in offering students with learning difficulties like dyscalculia a proven tool to accomplish age-appropriate academic achievements.
Geoboards are multi-functionality manipulative that offer a deeply ingrained understanding of geometrical figures’ concepts. The first graders can have a visual presentation of basic geometry concepts like line, angle, enclosed area, etc. With its simplicity of application, this manipulative motivates the learners to practice regularly. You will find an improvement in concept retention ability because it engages students deeply in thorough practice.
Instead of drawing the shapes on paper, help children create them on this shape manipulative. It improves fine motor skills and coordination and offers an engaging alternative to spice up a typical geometry session.
Apart from Geometry basics, you can use these to learn fractions and symmetry too at higher levels.
4. Multiplication Addition Subtraction and Division Number FlashCards
Children are expected to become fluent in math operations by the time they reach the first grade. However, if the performance is not up to the mark, they should continue to practice more. The more they practice, the better cranial capacity they attain. These basic operations flashcards offer that required ease in regular practice.
Children can refer to these operations cards to have group study sessions at home. These can make an interesting quiz material too. Teachers can use these manipulatives to boost students’ computation abilities by employing them as quiz material and conducting fast-paced concept recall activities in the class.
5. Time Activity Set
Time is one of the newer concepts that first graders need to master. Though there are digital clocks available, still the classic appeal of analog clocks does not wither away. This manipulative for teaching time comes with matching puzzle pieces that help gain fluency in time identification.
Further, picture cards provided help build understanding about waking time, school time, sleeping time, TV time, etc. Thus, it can build cognitive understanding in children about their normal schedule.
This time manipulative comes with three dice where one represents the hour and the other two denote minutes. Thus, visual representation makes it easier to attain deeper ingraining of time-reading activity in mind.
6. Base Ten Starter Kit
Base 10 blocks is multi-utility manipulative that can acquaint first-grade students with various basic math concepts. Divide each sheet into 1/10th parts or its multiples to introduce fractions to kids.
Or, stack the blocks to teach or practice the concept of bigger and smaller, or greater than and smaller than or equal to. You can even give an introduction of 3D geometry to the young learners and tell them about surface area and volume at higher levels.
This base ten manipulative can help enhance logical reasoning skills useful in solving math problems with ease. Students with learning difficulties can employ this manipulative as an alternative learning intervention and gain the requisite knowledge to excel in basic math.
7. Math Cubes
There is hardly any basic math concept that cannot be learned with these link-building cubes!
First graders can grasp the concepts like single-digit and double-digit addition and subtraction, to start with. Further, they can attach links horizontally and vertically to create hollow and solid figures to develop a deeper understanding of geometry, line, and symmetry.
With simple mental nudges, the teachers can drive kids’ thoughts towards strategic thinking. Hence, it is one of the must-have manipulatives that are sure to boost computational and logical thinking capabilities in math beginners.
8. A See and Build Geometry Set
Trying to make geometric figures manually teases the kids’ brain, improves their spatial reasoning, and enhances their matching and fine motor skills. This manipulative can teach a lot about geometrical figures in a gamified way.
You can give a quick challenge to kids by asking them to make figures using materials provided in this geometry set. It is a perfect alternative to make geometry hour a fun-filled one for kids, laden with added advantages like mental reasoning enhancement, maneuvering skills building, manual grip enhancement, etc.
9. Wooden Abacus for Math
We all have memories of using abacus in our childhood to solve basic math problems. This fun way of learning math is still prevalent and is loved by students even today! Wooden Abacus is a high-quality abacus that can serve as an effective tool for first graders to master math concepts like basic addition and subtraction.
The manipulative comes with 110 number cards, which can be used to form equations and can be laid on the top slot of the abacus. You also get 100 wooden sticks and 100 beads on the abacus to assist students in counting and finding answers. Overall, this manipulative will thoroughly engage little minds to understand and perform math skills required at their age and lay the foundation for complex operations in the future.
10. Play Money for Kids, Counting, Math, Currency
Play Money is an engaging manipulative that can be instrumental in teaching about money to first graders. You can give young kids a quick review of the currency system. Knowledge of currency bills’ and coins’ denominations help kids shop, design a budget, or manage pocket money rather confidently. And, this knowledge becomes easy to attain when they implement role play activities with this currency manipulative.
Parents can offer an easily comprehensible comparison of barter system days to the modern economy of present times by using these money manipulatives for first graders. They can further familiarize young learners with debit cards, ATMs, etc.
11. Magnetic Fraction Tiles and Circles Activity Set
Kids can use the activity cards provided to build a variety of fractions and display them on the card. There is also space for kids to write fractional equations as they represent them on the card in two different ways. Use this manipulative for individual or small group activities in your classroom and see kids learn fractions in one of the most interesting ways.
How math manipulatives make early math easier for first-grade students?
Teaching math to first graders can become more challenging if they suffer from math anxiety. Manipulatives help ease the learning process and allow us to acquaint kids with math concepts the gamified way. Some of the supportive qualities of manipulatives are:
- Math manipulatives allow giving practice of concepts in various ways. So, the kids become more receptive to the solution methods and try to apply different strategies.
- These manipulatives allow teachers to give a visual presentation of the number relationships when teaching basic math operations, the concept of time and money (when conducting a counting money lesson plan) , and shapes and patterns.
First grade is the crucial learning stage for a math beginner. The manipulatives come as an engaging respite from the conventional methods that may not be easy to comprehend for one and all. With a playful approach, these manipulatives stimulate readiness for learning in kids, allowing them to enjoy math rather than be scared of it.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,