27 Math Manipulatives You’ll Love for Your Classroom

Switching up math manipulatives can sometimes take up too much of your day. However, it creates an urge in your students to want to use what’s new. This helps them want to go to that center or do that task. This is why I love finding new counting manipulatives and things to do for math. If you don’t have many items for students to count in your classroom, here’s my list of favorite math manipulatives.

math manipulatives

This post includes affiliate links. I will receive a small payment if you purchase using my links.

Math manipulatives: Counting cubes

These colorful cubes can be used to teach basic counting skills by having students stack or group them to represent numbers. Additionally, they can explore concepts of addition and subtraction by combining or removing cubes. Counting cubes can also be employed for pattern recognition and sorting, encouraging young learners to develop foundational math skills in a hands-on and interactive manner.

Find counting cubes here.

Counting bears

These bear-shaped counters not only make counting engaging but also facilitate sorting and patterning exercises as students group them by color or size. Kindergarteners can practice addition and subtraction by adding or taking away bears from different groups. Additionally, counting bears encourage storytelling and imaginative play, allowing students to create math-related narratives while enjoyably strengthening their foundational math skills.

These bears are perfect when introducing addition story problems. It gives a great visual to differentiate between the bears in the story. I printed off a background for the students to pretend the bears are.

Find the counting bears here.

Ten Frames

Students can use ten frames to develop their number sense and counting skills by placing counters or objects in the frames to represent numbers up to ten. Students can easily visualize the concept of “making ten” by filling the frame.

Larger ten frames can be used to show students ways to build numbers. Magnetic frames are perfect for this idea. Students can use ten frames to help them organize their counting, work on counting on, teen numbers and so many other ideas. These math manipulatives can be used in so many different ways.

Find magnetic ten frames here.

Chain Links

Chain links are my least favorite math manipulative. However, I made sure to find ways to use them in the classroom. These are great for showing one more when working on numbers. I punched a hole in the number cards. Then, I had students use the chain links to build that number. Then, we sorted the numbers from least to greatest to see how the links got longer.

Find chain links here.

Coins

Using coins in the classroom provides hands-on opportunities for teaching valuable skills such as recognizing and identifying different coin denominations. Students can engage in coin sorting activities, where they learn to distinguish between pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters based on their physical attributes. By counting and representing various amounts using coins, learners can improve their counting and basic money recognition skills.

Coins are also very useful if you have a cash register or play market in your classroom. Students will learn the concept of shopping and paying for items with money.

Find coins here.

Buttons

Buttons can be used to enhance skills such as sorting and classifying. If you have a variety of buttons, students can look at attributes like size, color, shape, and even the number of holes. Students can also work on their fine motor skills as students handle and manipulate small objects.

Find assorted buttons here.

Popsicle sticks

Popsicle sticks are fairly inexpensive and usually can be purchased in bulk. It’s why I love to use them. Mini popsicle sticks even fit inside task card boxes for centers. One activity involves using popsicle sticks to create geometric shapes and structures. Students can receive different lengths of sticks and be challenged to create various designs. They are perfect for geometry lessons.

Find popsicle sticks here.

Dot cubes

Dot cubes, or dice, can be used for so many things! Number recognition can be used with dot cubes. Students can roll dice and count the dots, helping them to become more familiar with numbers. This helps them interactively develop their counting abilities.

Another activity with dot cubes is number formation. Students can roll dice, count up the dots, and write the numbers. This can be used to graph the number.

Find dot cubes here.

Pattern blocks

Pattern blocks can be used for a variety of things. One of my favorite activities is to use it with pattern block mats to create different pictures. At the beginning of the school year, students love these! From making butterflies, cars, trains, and boats, they can look at the picture and rebuild it using the pattern blocks.

Find pattern blocks here.

Dominos

Dominos can be used for building sets. Students can grab a domino, count the two sides, and then have to build a set matching that number. This is a great way to change up from counting dots on a dot cube. They are still counting dots, but with a manipulative that cannot roll.

Dominos can also be used to add. Give students a sheet with blank addition sentences and allow them to fill in the numbers and find the sum. A very low prep activity to reinforce addition.

Find dominoes here.

Playing cards

Playing cards do not have to be actual playing cards that adults use, but a card with numbers and objects for counting. Students can play various card games with these and they require zero prep. One math activity that is perfect for a math center is comparing. Students pull from the deck and flip over their cards.

Depending on the skill, whoever has the higher (or lower) number gets both cards. At the end of the game, whoever has the most cards wins. If they have a tie, they just flip again and the winner takes all 4 cards.

Find playing cards here.

Beans

Counting beans can be beans that you bought specifically for counting or beans from the grocery store. Jazz them up with a little spray paint to add a little fun to the beans. Students can count the beans in premade sets and record the number. The beans can be used in a counting collection. Beans can be added to a sensory bin where they have other cards for math skills. They can even search for the “golden” beans in a set.

For a golden set, have two colors of beans. One can be spray painted gold and the other can just be normal. If students are counting amounts up to 10, you can have any amount of beans in a container. If 7, have 4 normal beans and 3 golden beans. Students can record what they find and create an addition sentence. This can also be used in reverse for subtraction. You can use this for which has more as well. So many ideas just from using beans.

Find counting beans at your local store.

Playdough

Playdough can be used for number mats. Students can use the playdough to form numbers, fill in ten frames (make small playdough balls), and create number words. If you’re teaching shapes, students can also create 2D and 3D versions of the shapes using playdough.

Find playdough here.

Magnetic numbers

Students can use magnetic numbers to practice number sequencing and ordering. Give them a set of magnetic numbers and have them arrange the numbers in ascending or descending order on a magnetic board. This activity helps reinforce their understanding of number relationships, promotes number recognition, and enhances their ability to order numbers correctly, all while making learning engaging and tactile.

Find magnetic numbers here.

Seashells

Students can use counting seashells to build upon their number sense. The seashells can be grouped into sets of different quantities. They can explore concepts of more or fewer by comparing the seashell sets.

Find seashells here.

Mini erasers

Mini erasers are my favorite!!! They can be used in so many different ways in counting. One way to use mini erasers is for a sorting activity. They can sort the erasers into different groups based on color, shape, and so on. Normally, I find nice mini erasers in the Target Dollar Spot or on clearance at Walmart.

Find mini erasers here.

Geoboards and rubber bands

When introducing shapes, have students construct their own 2D shapes with the use of geoboards and rubber bands. Students can be given patterns or designs to replicate using the geoboards. Vocabulary such as angles, vertices, and sides can be introduced. Students can identify and count these attributes in their creations.

Find geoboards here.

Counting bugs

You can add counting bugs as a choice of manipulative. What kid doesn’t love exploring and playing with bugs? These would be great to add to a sensory big and have kids dig out of the dirt to count how many bugs of each kind they find. They can also sort the bugs by color, size, type of bug, number of legs, or any other attribute they find.

Find counting bugs here.

Balance scales

Balance scales are great when discussing measurement. Students can explore weight by comparing the masses of different objects. One activity they can do is to place objects of different weights on each side of the scale, working to balance it. This hands-on approach helps them understand the idea of heaviness or lightness of objects.

Find balance scales here.

Clocks

Students can use clocks to introduce the concept of telling time by manipulating the clock hands to specific positions corresponding to daily activities like mealtime or bedtime. Another engaging activity involves discussing the concepts of “o’clock,” “half-past,” and “quarter-past” by positioning the clock hands accordingly.

This hands-on approach helps students become familiar with basic time-telling skills and the language associated with it. Additionally, teachers can encourage students to create their own simple schedules using clock faces, promoting time management and understanding of daily routines.

Find clocks here.

Geometric solids

Students can use geometric solids to explore the world of three-dimensional shapes by identifying and comparing their attributes. One activity involves placing different solids inside a bag or box and having students reach in to identify and describe the shape they feel.

This tactile exercise helps them understand the characteristics of shapes like cubes, spheres, and cylinders. Additionally, students can use these solids to create simple sculptures and artwork, fostering creativity and spatial awareness while building a strong foundation in geometry.

Find geometric solids here.

Number lines and number charts

Extra math tools are also needed while students are learning numbers, mastering number sense, and learning new math skills. Number lines and number charts fall into this category. Every teacher’s math toolbox should have number lines and small number charts. Students can use these to help them when looking for a number, assist them in counting, and remember what number may come next.

Pop its

One of the newest additions to my collection of objects to use with math. Fidgets or pop its allow students to fidget while they work. I have allowed my students to use these for counting, addition, roll and pop, and many other ideas. A great way to use them is to ask your students for ideas.

Midyear is a great time after you’ve taught many skills, ask your students how they would want to use them in a center. It has to involve some sort of counting or something related to a math skill. They usually come up with some clever things.

Find math pop its here.

Sorting bowls

Sorting bowls can be used for sorting colors, shapes, and different attributes. If you have colored sorting bowls, students can sort by shape. If you do not, you can add labels to the bowls so students know what each bowl represents. These can be used with buttons and many other manipulatives. For buttons, you could also have numbers on the bowl so students would sort by the number of holes on each button.

You can find sorting bowls here.

Number stamps

Number stamps combined with a stamp pad can easily be an engaging math center. Students can use stamps to fill in the missing number on the number line or number chart. Number stamps can be used to fill in sums and differences in addition and subtraction sentences. They can also be used to practice tracing numbers.

Traceable stamps are made as well. Students stamp down a number, wait for it to dry, and then use their writing utensil of choice to trace the number. This is helpful for students still working on forming each of their letters correctly.

Find number stamps here.

Ten frame stamp

Years ago, I found a ten-frame stamp from Oriental Trading—the first time I’d ever seen one. My students could easily make their own ten frames in their math journals and then create sets. I used it when we worked on making ten.

They used two different-colored crayons to show making 10. Underneath the ten frames, they wrote out their addition sentence. This is a no-prep math center that can be created just by adding a stamp pad.

Find a ten frame stamp here.

Find a stamp pad here.

Flashcards

Flashcards are easy to find because you can find them in any dollar store. Have partners quiz each other on number words, shapes, and identifying numerals. Flashcards that have cartoon characters or special novelty designs are a big hit with students as well. Switch them out regularly to keep students’ interests piqued.

Find flashcards here.

I hope these ideas for math manipulatives will help you plan your math time. Want to read more math ideas? Check out all my number sense series here.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *