Homeschooling Series: Beyond Basic Manipulatives

Here is the first of five Blog posts in our Homeschooling Series about the use of manipulatives. Hope you enjoy!

Children naturally gravitate towards games, especially during Math homeschooling. Whether it is on the computer or live, children enjoy the feeling of ‘playing’. Though addressing “Play-Based Learning” could be a blog-post by itself, today we will addres use of tools and manipulatives in play-based learning. Oftentimes, manipulatives are self-created and at other times they are offered or encouraged an adult. This blog post strives to offer alternatives to learning math by using manipulatives and worksheets.

Firstly, let’s define Basic Math Concepts based on educational and practical terms:
  1. Number Sense (educational term)/ Understanding Numbers (practical term)
  2. Operations (educational term)/ Using Numbers (practical term)
  3. Patterns (educational term)/ Sequencing (practical term)
  4. Measurement (educational term)/ Understanding Length and Weight (practical term)
As previously stated, today we will address Number Sense:
  • What Number Sense may typically look like: counting the dots, counting the (manipulative), or using a number line while the child is sitting.
    Oftentimes it looks like this, combined with the adult “counting” with/for the child:
  • Number Sense may also look like: including actions to address fine-motor skills or a puzzle to complete.
    We would consider these activities “the next step” and they often look like this:

As a company, we would never classify any of these activities as inappropriate, pointless or harmful, but our question today surrounds the use of these manipulatives specifically: Would it be more beneficial to stagger the focus of the child’s skills beyond fine motor skills and basic counting? What about this trying this:

  • “Can you find me 5 things in the house that you think are very small/big/heavy/light/(color)/(shape)?” (Pointing to the number 5 on a number line)
  • “Before you start looking, let’s count to 5 together”
  • “Here is a number line for help!” (Child can actively bring each thing they find to the number to demonstrate counting-up)
  • Afterwards, “Why did you pick this object?” (Adult reviews this question with every object to help increase logic and reasoning)
Example performed with the question “Can you find 6 things that are all the same?”
Follow-up was to use those objects for each number, not only the number 6.
As a consideration during Math homeschooling…

Focus Online LLC believes that going beyond the use of basic manipulatives encourages higher-order thinking, problem-solving, and also confidence in decision-making. It often takes more time to complete the activity, and adults may feel the child has not mastered the necessary concept until the third or fourth practice-round. That’s a scary thought! In reality, though, we believe the child will start to become an independent problem-solver at a much earlier age and their understanding of Math concepts will be much broader than their peers.

Stay tuned to our Homeschooling Series for our thoughts on “Operations (educational term)/ Using Numbers (practical term)”!

Here is a fun and practical Math Game using playing cards with a surprise at the end!: