As we dive deeper into our learning and understanding of early math concepts, I have started a collection of free and affordable math manipulatives to use with my preschool-aged son as we learn with hands-on math activities. It hasn’t taken much money to collect these different math manipulatives. In fact most of our manipulatives are objects and toys we already had. We have just given them another purpose, the purpose of hands-on math learning! 🙂 In this article you will get some ideas for objects to use as math manipulatives, as well as some ideas for how to use them and store them!
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Free Math Manipulatives
There are many options for obtaining math manipulatives for free! One of the best ways to start collecting is through recycling or upcycling! Another way to get items for math manipulatives is to head outside and collect natural objects! Here is a list of ideas to collect:
Nature Manipulatives & Activities
- Rocks (Number Pebbles)
- Small Twigs (Counting & Grouping with Sticks)
- Acorns (Outdoor Acorn Math Activities)
- Maple Helicopter Seeds (Counting Helicopter Seeds)
- Shells (Shell Memory Math Game)
- Pine Cones (Pine Cone Math Station)
- Milk Caps (Milk Cap Number Matching)
- Bread Tabs
- Pouch Caps
- Cardboard Tubes (Number Recognition & Ordering with Paper Tubes)
Affordable Math Manipulatives
I have also been collecting affordable math manipulatives from The Dollar Tree, Target Dollar Spot and Oriental Trading! These three stores always have an assortment of small objects that are perfect for using with hands-on math activities! Check out this list of cheap math manipulatives!
- Assorted table scatter (perfect for holiday and seasonal themes)
- Foam Shape Counters
- Plastic Links
- Mini Erasers
- Pom Poms
- Glass Gem Stones
- Plastic Coins
- Craft Sticks
- Coffee Stirrers
- Pipe Cleaners
Toys as Math Manipulatives
Small toys also make great math manipulatives! Some popular items I’ve seen used include Duplos, LEGOs, cars, and animal figures. Below are some great ideas using toys for learning math!
- Duplo Blocks Counting & Tower Matching
- Counting and Measuring with LEGO
- Learning about Fractions with LEGO
- Hands-on Multiplication: Grouping with LEGO
- Parking Lot Math Game
- How to Teach Subtraction with Cars
- Preschool Math using Toy Animal Figures
Food as Math Manipulatives
Another fun item I like to use occasional for hands-on math activities is food! Sugary cereals and candy are always a special treat in our house and make great math manipulatives! Dyed pasta and beans also make great math manipulatives! Below are some fun ideas for using food for learning math!
- Animal Cracker Counting
- Candy Heart Catapult: Measuring Distance
- Math Games with Candy
- Jelly Bean Math
- Gingerbread & Gumdrops Grid Game
How to Store Math Manipulatives
I store many of our math manipulatives in this divider box. This box is large enough to store a good amount of small objects and the dividers keep them all organized! I also keep more manipulatives in plastic baggies in a clear plastic shoe box container. Both of these options work well for us.
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