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!







Handcart list- preschool

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners.  Today’s portion focuses on early learners (birth to preschool age).

  • Board books-I admit to a bit of an attitude when it comes to board books.  If there is as much text as you find in a picture book, get the picture book.  Board books should have fun, interesting pictures, minimal text, and if there is chewable handle or other tactile addition, so much the better!  Sandra Boynton, Jan Brett, Winnie-the-Pooh, and so many others are great.   Non-fiction is a great way to go as well.   It is a waste of time to bother with odd or harsh illustrations, and bad text.
  • Bath toys i.e. cups, bowls, boats, funnels, rags- Bath time was one of my favorite times of day as a young mom.  Not only were my kids in a confined space, they were able to experience things in the tub that got them in trouble anywhere else!  Water is a fascinating substance.  Let them splash, play, and experiment in it.
  • Music recordings and songs sung by Mom- Lullabies, folk songs, children’s favorites, religious music.  Expose your young children (and the rest of the family) to a variety of musical genres, and arrangements.  Orchestral, choral, solo, barbershop, silly, action songs (i.e. Eensy, Weensy Spider), and Mom singing to them all help them experience the wonder of music in a different way.  Take them to live concerts (outside at the park, or at the local school where you can leave when you need is best).  Play recordings at home, in the car, or sing as you work. Try to vocalize various instruments.  Add harmonies if you can.
  • Basic toys i.e. rattles, balls, blocks, dolls and stuffed animals, cars, shape sorter, stacking cups, something with buttons to push and knobs with which to play, lacing cards.  There is such a variety of textures, materials, colors, and sounds that can be explored  through toys and play.  Have fun with it- just be sure to purchase things that will not break with the first use.  Cheap toys are not just a let-down, they can be unsafe.  Often you can create your own.  Use fun pictures glued or laminated onto cardboard for lacing cards.  Re-use clothing fasteners (from discarded pieces) to produce a practice board for buttons, snaps, velcro, buckles, etc.  Look around.  You may be surprised by what wonderful things are available.
  • Give them time with clay, sand, salt dough, mud, etc.- make a mess.  Let them pound, stomp, squish, spread, and generally get dirty. An old shower curtain or some newspaper makes a great drop cloth for easy clean-up, or go outside and have fun there.  Large and small motor skills can be developed as they try making snakes, crude pots, and other objects.  As they grow older, form letters, numbers, maps, etc.  Work with them.  Children love to participate with the adults in their life!
  • Basic art supplies- crayons, watercolor, large pencils, chalk, paper.  They will need supervision while they learn how and where to use these supplies, but early exposure with no expectations of neatness or or quality of work allows them to freely explore these media.
  • Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready  by June R. Oberlander or Teach Me Mommy by Jill W. Dunford- not sure where to start, or looking for a more structured approach?  These books are full of great ideas! 

Love these board books!

Okay.  I am definitely a book junkie.  We own over 3,000 books, and my “wants” list continues to grow!  One type of book for which I have a developed a great love, and growing collection, is board books.  I tend to be quite selective about purchases, but there are so many fun things available.   We own many of the the usual candidates- Sandra Boynton, Jan Brett, DK touch and feel books.  But this past week we found some that make me grin every time I see them in the book basket.  They are trademarked BabyLit, and published by Gibbs Smith.  They each  take their title from the classic novel on which they are based.

There is a book on colors taken from “Alice in Wonderland,” a counting book based on “Pride and Prejudice,” an opposites primer from “Sense and Sensibility,” and (my current favorite) a weather primer based on “Wuthering Heights.”  These board books have high contrast illustrations, easy text (“Wuthering Heights does have some quotes from the classic), and are great fun for the adults to read, especially if you are familiar with the original stories!  (There are more titles in this series.  I am still trying to get my hands on the rest!)

One of the most fun things about having grandchildren is having an excuse to own finds like these to share with them, or buying them as gifts.  The youngest three (all just over a year) love these books and dig them out of the basket so that I will read them.  Hope you enjoy them too.

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

Tips for working with preschoolers


My life finds me surrounded by my grandchildren.  5 boys, 1 girl.  The oldest is 7.  It gets a bit crazy.  Rather than pining for the day when they are older (I do look forward to all that will bring), I have decided to love each moment I have with them now!  Preschoolers are a handful, so here are my thoughts on making the most of each day!

Tips for Mom’s survival

  • Consistency (or lack thereof) will make all the difference.  Choose your priorities.  Stick with them.  Mean it when you say it.
  • Doing things with them will work ten times better than simply telling them what to do.  Teach them how and then teach them again.  Together.  Often.  With love and laughter.
  • Now is the time to develop good habits.  If left unsupervised, they will develop not-so-good ones.
  • Learn about learning styles, stages, and personality types.  It will help as you teach them, and as you live together as a family.
  • Open-ended play can give you more bang for your buck.  Buy toys and books that will grow with them.  Enjoy family activities that can expand with them.  Grow with them.
  • Feed them the good stuff.   Limiting sugar and junk food will result in better health, better behavior, and better eating habits.
  • Limit screen time.  If it involves a screen, limit it.  Big ones, small ones, any screen.
  • Let them be kids.  They will be goofy, foolish, fun, and emotional.  It is okay.  They really do grow up faster than you think!
  • Keep it basic.  (There are lots of basics.)   If they never learn that basics are important, growing up is much harder!  You can’t build on a shaky foundation!
  • Give them chores.  Age-appropriate, genuinely helpful chores.  They can do it.  They need to do it.  You need the help.  Teach them to work.  As much as possible, have order in your home.
  • Routines are essential.
  • Allow them to contribute.  As they grow, they should feel needed, and should be taught to do what they can.  It is a good feeling.  Share it with them while they are still wanting to help!
  • Listen to them.  Laugh with them.  Enjoy them.
  • Keep your voice down.  The angrier you are, the quieter your voice should be.  (I do not know anyone who has perfected this, but it works when I remember.)
  • Find a few good friends for them and enjoy limited, supervised play dates.   Preschoolers tend to have a “pack” mentality if left to their own devices!
  • Sing.  A lot.

Tips for academics

  • Use real information and vocabulary.  They can handle it.  And it makes later learning much simpler!
  • Fun is important.  For you.  For them.
  • Do not panic.  They are preschoolers.  College is over a decade away!
  • Get your hands dirty.  Even harder, let them get their hands dirty.
  • Now is the time to develop an interest in the arts.  Visual.  Music. Theater. Sports.
  • Use simple learning materials.  If it is too complex for you to learn in an afternoon, don’t use it with your children.  Keep is simple, and it will be.
  • Let them explore-with supervision, of course.
  • Use good literature.  Dumbed-down books and other media are everywhere.  Be as discerning about what you allow them to see and hear as you are about what they eat.
  • Challenge yourself to challenge them.  Look for the best, and try different things.  If it is too hard, they will let you know.  But you may be surprised at what they can and are willing to do!
  • Keep it basic.  (There are lots of basics.)  We have developed this idea that basics are to be skimmed over in order to get to the “good stuff”.  Sometimes, the basics are some of the “good stuff”.  And they always make the “good stuff” easier to understand, and more enjoyable!
  • Use units as much as possible i.e. the human body, the alphabet, mammals, the United States, Fairy Tales.  Studying things in ordered groups allow children to order them in their head, and begin to learn how inter-related the world is.
  • Make messes-and then clean them up when you are done.  Together.
  • Sing.  More.  Learning songs, fun songs, nonsense songs, gospel songs and hymns.  Sing.

Enjoy them while they are young!  Charles Dickens said, “I love these little people, and it is not a slight thing when they who are so fresh from God love us.”  I concur.

Homeschooling, Parenting

Begin learning early, and make it fun!

I read an article in the newspaper this week about a study done which demonstrated the need to teach children basic math skills before they begin school.  The researchers found that most children who are behind when they begin school never quite catch up with their age-mates.  (Baker, Celia. “Success in math starts before first grade.” Deseret News 19 February 2013: A1. Print.)

Do we really need a study to tell us this?  Why are people surprised by the fact that we need to feed the brains of these young ones as they are growing more quickly than at any other time?  Now, I am not advocating “seat work” for an active three-year-old.  Neither the child nor mother should have to put up with that.  But I am suggesting that it is common sense to make early learning and life a part of every day.  Remember finger-plays, hopscotch, jump rope, board games, helping in the kitchen, and including the entire family in real life?  We need turn off the screens more, and get out there together.  Need to go shopping?  Take one child with you to count apples, and help fill the cart.  (As they get older, they can help with using a calculator to stay in budget, and working out the unit pricing on things.)  Need to make a quick trip to the library, neighbors, meetinghouse, etc.?  Take them with you, and talk.  Look for signs of the seasons.  Play word games. Sing songs.  Skip.  Show them all the great and good life has to offer.  This can’t be done if we don’t have time for them, or have decided that the “experts” are better qualified to help them than we are.  As their parents and grandparents, no one is better qualified to teach, love, or direct them as they grow.  No computer or video can do it.  That is our job.

We cannot send them into the world without us “having their backs.”   As adults we need to watch for the dangers they may not see and, truthfully, shouldn’t need to be able to recognize.  Give them a childhood- one where they are sheltered, loved, instructed, and prepared to be the amazing adults they will become.