Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Free Exploration of Math Materials: Introduction (Pre K-2)

One person's junk is another person's treasure, so when I have made up some homemade math manipulatives, we affectionately referred to them as "Junk" or "Treasure." I keep them in separate plastic containers and have kept the containers on shelves, or if I need the room, in a large bin. The shelves are nice because if they seem them, they tend to play with them more. They also begin to make their own collections and put them on the shelves to share. They tend to take more ownership of the materials in general if you let them be a part of the creating process, and if they have more ownership in general, they will be willing to work with the materials longer and more often. Some good materials to buy are patten blocks, Unifix cubes, multi-colored and shaped beads that can be strung, Cusesinare rods, Math-U-See blocks and geoboards (although these can be hand made). If you do not have any of these materials, do not feel you have to go out and buy them all. Just pick out one or two initially and then add to your collection as you go along. Many other math manipulatives can be bought at the grocery store, for example, very inexpensively or collected. Other materials to gather can be buttons, lids and/or bottle caps, stones, old keys, acorn tops or other natural items, glass counters, plastic "jewels," mixed color and shape macaroni, mixed beans, colored Popsicle sticks, foreign coins, etc. Be creative about what to gather. Things that have a particular category and yet have variations among them make the best math manipulatives.

On the first day, just let them explore and play with them any way they like. This is to explore the potentials and limitations of various materials, observe similarities and differences, and also have their curiosity satisfied so that when we use these materials for math activities they will be willing to do what is asked with them.
You will also need to need to establish some rules about their use. Once of my rules is that if they get them out, they have to put them back before they leave the table. Sometimes I limit the number of items they use on the table at once. Sometimes I limit how long they use a particular item, especially if it is new.

Other resources for gathering and using math manipulatives include Math Their Way and Treasure Boxes.
"For manipulative instruction to be effective, manipulatives must be:
*Basic to the instruction, not just an occasional add-on
*Used by students for exploring and modeling rather than by teachers for demonstrating
*Used patiently and consistently to allow time for processing and understanding
*Available in sufficient quantity to involve each student frequently and adequately
*Used before the textbook so that conceptualization depends on student thinking , not outside explanations
*Followed by student drawings that represent the concrete models as a bridge to symbols"
-Making Math Meaningful by Milt Uber Winter 2007 Charlotte Mason Educational Review from Childlight USA.
(re-posted from 7/18/08)
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  1. I have a copy of Math Their Way that I need to pull out and look at again.

  2. I really like all of your ideas for math manipulatives. You are definitely my go-to math and history blog. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful resources.


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