Homemade Math Manipulatives

You can either buy math manipulatives or make your own. Most of the time, your child will only need to use a prop when he is first learning how to add, subtract, and multiply. In later years you can use a visual.

I have to admit that when I started homeschooling I did use a store-bought manipulative. If I had used some thought I could have used materials I already had at home. I will show you how easy it is to make your own products.


Children love to use food for a manipulative. Place small candies, crackers, or raisins in a bowl. Give your child a worksheet. He can then use the food to help solve the problems. For subtraction your child can eat the number of raisins that is being taken away.

For multiplication show your child how to place the items into groups. Then count by the number in the group.  So if you are learning two times a number, place two items in each group. Then count by two.

We have used food such as grapes, small candies, cookies, or crackers to teach division. My children counted to see how many people would share. They would make sure that each person got an equal share.

When my children were young they made bugs on a stick for lunch. I would cut celery sticks. On the sticks my children would spread peanut butter and place ten raisins. I would use the sticks to teach about place value. The bugs on the log can also be used to teach about two digit addition. Write out a math problem such as 23 + 15. Your child would need three bugs on a log with ten raisins on two logs and eight single raisins other one.

If you don’t want your child eating the items you could use dried beans as a math manipulative. To teach place value glue ten beans on craft sticks. I like to make ten sticks so that my child can do problems up to one hundred. When the glue has dried place the sticks in a zip lock bag with some loose beans.

Crackers come in different shapes and sizes. Buy different round crackers and teach about small, medium, and large. Look through your cracker boxes and find rounds, squares, rectangles, and triangles.

My children also liked to make sugar cookies. You can cut the dough into different shapes. We had a circle and star cutter. To make squares, rectangles, triangles, and diamonds use a knife and cut the different shapes.

I have also used food to teach about fractions. A fraction is a whole cut into equal pieces. We have divided sandwiches, pizza, pie, cake, and candy. Some candy bars come with dividing lines. Break the candy bar on the lines and count the pieces. Then divide the pieces among the people present. Was there a remainder?

More Items for Math Manipulatives

My children loved looking through my button collection. They liked to sort according to size, color, or how many holes the button has. Buttons can also be used as math manipulatives for doing problems.

Beads are another item that is fun for children to sort and do math with. You can also make a homemade abacus with beads.

Recycle items that you through away for math. Two items that we have collected are plastic bread ties and bottle caps.

Toys can also be used for math. If you don’t have linking cubes use Lego bricks. Our set came in five colors; red, yellow, blue, white, and green. Store bought linking cubes have ten colors with ten of each so you will need to double up when you use Lego Bricks. One way around this problem is to use different sizes. For one group you could use the square with four dots. For another group use the bricks with six dots or another size.

Make a geoboard out of finishing nails and a square piece of scrap lumber.  Use the board to teach about geometry.

A Book of Ideas

I had one child that needed a lot of hands-on work before he understood math. I picked up the book 40 Easy-to-Make Math Manipulatives by Carole J. Reesink. You can do the activities with your child. My son and I made the dinosaur. The spikes are different colored clothes pins. My child used the dinosaur for addition and subtraction.

Have fun looking in your house for items you can use as math manipulatives.

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