Top 9 Creative Addition and Subtraction Manipulatives

Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Editorial Team

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Can manipulatives be used for teaching addition and subtraction? The answer is ‘yes’.

The concept of addition and subtraction is not something alien to children by the time they reach grade 1. (Chapter 7, Adding it Up, Consensus Study Report, 2001)

But, for some, relating the process of adding and subtracting with the use of arithmetic signs is quite cumbersome.

This is where you can introduce addition and subtraction manipulatives and offer early learners a relatable resource to master these basic operations.

Role of manipulatives in learning addition and subtraction

Manipulatives are the tangible objects that your little learners sort or arrange, or maneuver to internalize certain concepts related to mathematical literacy. (Jean Piget, 1985)

These learning manipulatives serve multiple purposes, such as:

  • Enable a deeper understanding of the mathematical functions without going through the drill of reading or writing
  • Help develop an understanding of the use of math skills in real-life scenarios
  • Consequently, these prepare the child to practice more with deeper engagement

Top 9 manipulatives that ease learning of addition and subtraction

So, let’s take a look at the list of addition and subtraction manipulatives that have made the process of mastering basic arithmetic operations quite simplified.

1. Linking Cubes

Linking Cubes

Add cubes with each other to complete the equation or take cubes out from the tower to learn subtraction practically. The kids can make umpteen combinations of the equations and practice mathematical operations as much as they want.

You can add to the complexity by assigning numbers to the color-coded cubes, so the kid can also use it further to learn multiplication along with other multiplication manipulatives or further arithmetic operations. This manipulative for addition and subtraction allows kids to internalize the early math using gamification way.

2. Dice in Dice

Dice in dice

Dice is one of the oldest manipulative for number recognition, which also gives a better understanding of number sense. The kids will roll the dice and count the numbers in both outer and inner dice. They can either add those or multiply those. The number relationship idea takes a tangible approach when the dice is put inside the dice.

Teachers use these die to design war games where the child gets the dice if his number is higher than the opponent. Thus, the idea of greater than and smaller than also can be found with this manipulative for addition and subtraction. Color and number recognition, number relationships, and  achieving number sense goals becomes easy using this manipulative that can stay with the kids right from the kindergarten to higher grades.

3. Magnetic Number Flash Cards with Arithmetic Sign Cards

Magnetic Number Flash Cards with Arithmetic Sign Cards

Sign and number flashcards offer easy learning material for the students who are dependent on read-to-learn methods for gaining fluency with arithmetic operations. Those children who find it difficult to write can take the help of these flashcards to build their math operation skills.

The magnetic flashcards used as addition and subtraction manipulative allow students to perform and understand the meaning of operations. They can visualize the number quantity as the numbers are accompanied with corresponding number of dots. By simple way of counting the dots, and by reading the answers, children can understand the functionality of the mathematical sign used in the equation.

4. Math Balance

Math Balance

Operations like addition and subtraction give an initial introduction to the concept of mathematical equations. Kids with writing difficulties take the help of pegs, long hooks, and the balance, which symbolizes the two sides of the equation. A simple activity of placing the hook on the peg tells children about the number they are dealing with.

All numbers chosen are earmarked on the left side and the answer on the right to give an easily graspable introduction of the mathematical function and equations. This manipulative for addition and subtraction is not offering the resource to learn to count but boosts number and operational sign recognition concept in addition to telling the functional aspect of the sign.

5. Self-correcting Wrap Key Kit

 Self-correcting Wrap Key Kit

A very interesting manipulative for addition and subtraction that kids can use to internalize the concept of addition. There is a series of numbers given on either edge of the key length-wise. And the wrap-up thread mark is designed such that the correct equation is formed.

Means, the thread goes over the 1 on one side and through ‘+7’ and ends at 8 on the other side. Thus, this key allows the learners to check the correctness of their answers when they are performing operations like addition, subtraction, and others. It is a reliable learning tool for the homeschoolers who need some reference material as an alternative to books. This manipulative can be used to memorize the operations.

6. Self-correcting Puzzle Set

Self-correcting Puzzle Set

The operations like addition and subtraction become easy to grasp with these self-correcting puzzle sets. Children match the operations with their answers using this manipulative and complete the jigsaw puzzles.

This manipulative allows you to take a break from books and replace the struggle of recognizing the operational symbol with learning its actual functionality. Thus, as a beginner, you can enjoy the learning process by doing something instead of struggling to memorize.

Number recognition, early math intelligence, number sense, and fluency with arithmetic operations are some of the skills little children can build and strengthen with this manipulative for addition and subtraction.

7. YEITIADY Wooden Dominoes

 YEITIADY Wooden Dominoes

Young children love bright and colorful objects and are enticed to play with and work with them. With this in mind, YEITIADY has created this wonderful manipulative that teaches kids basic addition and subtraction calculations. A small group of 2-3 kids can work with the 110 mini dominoes at a time to brush up on their addition and subtraction skills.

The wooden answer board provided in this set has solutions printed on it, and players are required to match the answers with equations given on individual blocks. What makes this manipulative even more special is that its utility is not limited to teaching basic math. 

In fact, when kids are done learning, teachers can allow them to have a fun time by creating different designs or using them as building blocks to let their creativity soar. On the whole, this is a fun manipulative to learn color and number recognition, early math operations, and put their spatial thinking skills to work.

8. Magnetic Addition Machine

Magnetic Addition Machine

How about actually adding numbers to a magnetic board to understand the concept of adding two numbers? A number is nothing but a figurative representation of a quantity. So, when you are adding two numbers, you are actually adding something more to what you already have. It is a common concept that can be strengthened further with the help of math manipulative for addition and subtraction like Addition Machine.

A child adds the number of balls to the board according to the hint card or puzzle was given to him. The last number where the row of balls ends gives the answer.

Similarly, the kids can take out the balls from the bar to ease the understanding of the subtraction concept.

Thus, play it out to learn it better, this is what this manipulative tries to deliver to the learners of addition and subtraction.

9. Addition and Subtraction Bingo

Addition and Subtraction Bingo

Often used as a game for the parties and picnics, Bingo is a phenomenon and not just a manipulative for addition and subtraction. This manipulative comes with a puzzle card that can be used as an activity prompter to carry the process of basic mathematical operations like addition and subtraction.

The players, who are conversant with numbers, can practice this game to achieve fluency in mathematical calculations by playing it in a competition way.

Best ways to use manipulatives to make addition and subtraction interesting

A lot has been said about the strategies to use manipulatives in our various posts. Let’s move on to learn about the activities that one can perform with these manipulatives to enhance addition and subtraction skills:

  • Use them for initiating number talk sessions
  • Design competitions involving groups to promote collaborative learning
  • Make practice sessions based on manipulative for enhancing the operational skill
  • Do in-class projects to focus on the application part of the addition and subtraction concepts
  • Design math fluency games for deeper engagement

Wrapping up,

We cannot stress more on the positive outcomes one can achieve by using manipulatives in math literacy. Creative manipulatives, games, and worksheets for addition and subtraction concepts make learning engaging and enjoyable for kids. They allow students to connect visually with these mathematical concepts and develop a deeper level of understanding which prepares them well for more complex mathematical operations they learn in the future. So, pick out your favorite addition and subtraction manipulatives from the ones we have highlighted in this article and create a positive hands-on learning environment for your students.

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