Math Manipulatives - Why your child needs them

May 12, 2022 | Red Deer

The Mathnasium Method™ uses a unique combination of mental, verbal, visual, tactile and written techniques in our education strategy. In this article, we are going to focus on the importance of a tactile approach by using manipulatives.


Some manipulatives we often use are Place Value Flipcharts, Base 10 Blocks and Clocks.


Touching and holding objects can make all the difference

“What is half of half?” For some reason, many students answer “zero”. They think there are no fractions that are smaller than a half. Then we show them pizza manipulatives (they wish it were a real pizza 😊). They will see that if you cut a whole pizza into two parts the same, you will get two halves. Then if you cut a half further, you’ll get one fourth, or a quarter. So, by using manipulatives, they have the firsthand experience of “half of half is one fourth”. 

Yes, hands-on activities can help students to understand an abstract concept. This is especially important for younger students, since almost all math concepts are brand new to them. It is also helpful for tactile learners who respond best to these techniques. If your child struggles to sit still or often needs to hold a toy or random object to fidget with, manipulatives may be the answer when teaching them math. 


Some examples of manipulatives

At Mathnasium of Red Deer, below are the most common manipulatives that we use in our centre:

  • A real number line on the floor, not just on paper. This is so they can walk along the number line and interact with it (step forward or move backward). 
  • Coins – so that they can see how a nickel, a dime or a toonie look like. Not only can they have a first-hand exposure to currency, this can also teach them coin equivalence which includes strategic grouping and proportional reasoning. 
  • Clocks – to teach them how to read an analog clock and elapsed time. It can even provide them with the foundation of multiplication by 5s.
  • Base 10 Blocks – to help them learn place value, regrouping, and also addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. 
  • Fraction Circles – to introduce students with the concept of fractions, because it provides essential reinforcement to the relative value of fractions. For example, it allows them to see if 3/6 is the same as ½, or which one is bigger 1/10 or 3/10. 
  • Ten Frame (see pic below) – to help them learn addition, subtraction, and decomposing. Eight blue discs plus five yellow discs is the same as 8 blue plus 2 yellow discs (to make 10) and then plus the leftover of yellow discs which is 3. So 10 + 3 is 13. This can eliminate finger counting (because many kids – even highschoolers – tend to count by one) and minimize error.


Mastering "Complement of 10" skill is so powerful that one of our students, a third grader who has been with us for a year (since his 2nd grade), can beat anyone - even sixth and eighth graders - in addition and subtraction games!


When to stop using manipulatives?

Yes, manipulatives are important and useful but be mindful not to overuse them. They are used to introduce, explain, remind, reinfoce concepts and skills.  

Too much use will not train them to think abstractly and solve more complex problems. Bit by bit they need to get used to visualizing it without the real objects. Just like one of our young students says, “I have the number line in my mind!” 👍



Mathnasium of Red Deer is your neighbourhood’s math-only learning centre, and we are here to help your child. Our centre director, Riwan, and the whole team, would be happy to meet you! We are conveniently located in the shopping destination area in Red Deer: 5250 22nd St, Unit 30 B – at the Gaetz Avenue Crossing shopping centre, in the same area as Chapters Indigo/Starbucks, Michael Arts, Petland and Ashley, and the phone number is 403-872 MATH (6284). 

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