Math Manipulatives and Games

Say the word “math” to many homeschooling mothers and they will begin to envision text books, worksheets, and test forms.  I had a great visit from a dear friend today that reminded me how much more is needed in order to give your children a solid foundation in mathematics.  It begins when they are very small, and continues into adulthood.  Numbers, calendars, telling time (analog and digital), economics, and so many other things fall under the mathematics umbrella!  Here some non-textbook ideas of ways to teach these things to your family.  (Many of these are things you can involve Dad in making.)

Early math

Supplies needed: (watch young children with small objects)

  • 3×5 cards
  • dominoes
  • paper and card stock
  • felt
  • beads/wire or buttons/string
  • dice
  • clothespins

Games to make:

  • Create sets of cards with numerals (1-10, 1-20) on half of the cards, dots or pictures on the other half.  Match the sets. Use in a game of concentration.
  • Count beads or buttons.  Match by color, create patterns, and use for beginning math equations.
  • Lay out numeral cards and add beads or buttons to total the number on the card, or clip clothespins on each card. (Watch young children with clothespins;  they can pinch.)
  • Match up dominoes as you count the dots.
  • Create number cards to 100.  Lay them out in order, make piles of odd and even cards, or use them to practice skip counting.
  • Create a number line and use for math practice (what is 5 more than…?, what is 2 less than….?)
  • Use felt or card stock to create multiple sets of fraction strips or circles. Label them with the correct fraction (1/3, 1/4, 1/8, 1/12, etc.).  Use them to complete a whole, or to match, i.e. 1/2=2/4, etc.
  • Create your own dot-to-dot pictures. (Or have your child create them.)  Fill them in.
  • Create cards for the basic orders of operation . (+, -, etc.) Use with numeral cards to create equations.  How many combinations are possible for any given sum or difference?  Product or quotient?
  • Use dice and the number line to prove basic mathematical equations. (Add or subtract the dots on the dice and move a bead or button up/down the number line to show the sum/difference.)

Time, money, measurement

supplies needed:

  • coins and dollar bills
  • ads
  • paper plate
  • construction paper
  • brass fasteners
  • 3×5 cards


  • Allow your children to use actual coins.  Learn the value of each.  Practice making change and finding possible combinations for different totals.
  • Set up a store and practice selling, purchasing, making change, etc.
  • Take your children shopping with you.  Have them help you compare prices, look at unit pricing, etc.
  • Make an analog clock from a paper plate, construction paper, and a brass fastener.  Learn to use it!
  • Make matching card sets- analog face on one card, digital display on the other.
  • Use a calendar.  It will teach days of the week and months of the year.  Find holidays, special family events, etc.  Try creating a calendar together.
  • Learn how fahrenheit and celsuis relate.
  • Use common objects to begin measurement practice.  How many legos long is ……?  or how many popsicle sticks?
  • Create a balance scale by suspending paper cups from a clothes hanger.  use small objects as units of measurement i.e. legos, paper clips, barrettes, etc.
  • Buy a measuring tape and practice measuring objects around your home.  Estimate measurements, then check your guesses.
  • Graph your room on graph paper.  Plan a flower or vegetable garden on graph paper.  Now try to make the real area look like the plan.  What worked well?  What is harder until you see it in 3-D?  Try figuring out how many shingles you will need to re-roof your house, or how many tiles it would take to create a new kitchen back-splash.
  • Learn the volume amounts for various items, i.e. gallons, quarts, pints, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.
  • Cook.  Cut a recipe in half.  Double it.  Cook some more.
  • Follow the stock market with imaginary funds.
  • Learn to keep a checkbook.

Don’t forget that logic and spatial thinking are part of math.  Classifications, patterns, diagramming, graphing, tangrams, pentominoes, geoboards, models, and soma cubes are all great tools for hands-on learners.

We use math everyday.  It is everywhere we look.  Though I am not a great mathematician, I do recognize the need to have a firm footing in the basics!

Happy calculating!







2 thoughts on “Math Manipulatives and Games”

  1. Oh I love this! One of my big goals with my kids is to avoid giving them a math phobia. I want them to feel comfortable with numbers. I think I might be making some number cards pretty soon. Thanks!

    1. Great to hear from you! I hope military life is treating you well. It can be quite an adventure, but it is unlike any other! Good luck with the number cards. I have a whole slew of stuff here, if you ever want to check in when you are in town. Have a great day!

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