Manipulatives, which are hands-on tools for teaching math and other subjects, are a great way to reach tactile and visual learners. In fact, a 2001 review of 14 educational studies found that all students could benefit from the use of manipulatives. Further, the studies highlighted that students with special needs, those whose first language is not English, and high-risk students made the highest gains when manipulatives were a significant part of the curriculum. Anything that makes learning fun while improving performance is a win for students and teachers alike. Our list of resources and ideas makes it easy to incorporate a wide variety of tactile tools into science, math, and other STEM lesson plans.
Having tangible objects to help reason through problems strengthens logical thinking skills. The 2001 review also explains that, in early elementary students, those who learn to count using physical objects consistently score higher on assessments than those who do not. Counting tools can be almost anything, from basic disks and cubes to game-like goodies such as Counting Cookies. Older students benefit from tools that transform abstract concepts, like time, into concrete activities. Students who have their own small wipe-clean clocks will find it easier to learn analog time. Play money is a great way to make currency lesson plans feel real. Fractions are better understood with manipulatives, whether students use fraction strips, base ten blocks, or fun toy pizzas. There is also a variety of helpful manipulatives available for geometry, measurements, volume, and just about any other math subject.
What kid doesn’t like to play? You can ease reluctant students into learning when you disguise lessons as games. Board games are ideal for small groups of elementary school kids who can follow instructions and regulate themselves, but younger kids may need an adult to keep things running smoothly. All Around the Playground is a counting and recognition game geared toward pre-k students, and Picnic Party promotes number recognition and other skills for kindergarteners. Under the Sea Shells makes word problems fun for first and second graders. Older kids will enjoy quizzing each other with a modern take on a classic, the Word Whiz Electronic Flash Card.
Whether you use games and toys in small groups or classroom sets of manipulatives, kids are sure to learn and retain better when they are having fun.