1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What Are Math Manipulatives?

7 Math Manipulatives You Should Know About


If you've been in an elementary math class lately or read the "Peek of the Week" newsletter that your child's teacher has sent home, you've probably come across the term manipulatives. Contrary to how it sounds, manipulatives aren't the kids in the classroom who angle to get their way.

Math manipulatives are tools teachers use to promote hands-on learning in the classroom and make math more fun. Manipulatives allow students to visualize abstract ideas, solve problems in a concrete way and check their answers.


1. Counting Bears

manipulatives counting bears
Sean Campbell/Flickr

These multi-colored bears can be used to teach younger students to recognize colors; to create an ordinal number "parade;"  to learn spatial directions (i.e. Put a green bear under your chair); to recognize, create and duplicate patterns and to begin graphing.

2. Pattern Blocks

manipulatives pattern blocks

Pattern blocks are also multi-colored, though they are 2-dimensional geometric shapes. They can be used to make, duplicate and extend patterns; sort by color and shape; learn the names of shapes and to learn how putting shapes together can create other shapes.

3. Unifix Cubes

manipulatives unifix cubes
Kathy Cassidy/Flickr

These multi-colored interlocking cubes have a number of different uses, including teaching number sense from one-to-one correspondence to place value. They can be used for work with patterning, estimation, addition, subtraction and beginning multiplication and fraction skills.

4. Cuisenaire Rods

manipulatives cuisenaire rods
P. Willey/Flickr

Cuisenaire rods are often used to teach place value and relationships among numbers. Since the rods are of varying size, they work well to help students visualize fractions and proportion.

5. Tangrams

manipulatives tangrams
Nevit Dilmen

Tangram puzzles have been around since ancient times. Not only is it fun to try to fit these 7 shapes into outlines of animals and other pictures, but it also helps students learn spatial orientation. The pieces can also be used for basic geometry, that is, learning how shapes can be turned and combined to make other shapes. Older students can use tangrams to learn congruence of angles, calculating perimeter and area and symmetry.

6. Fraction Bars

manipulatives fraction bars
Judy Baxter/Flickr

Fraction bars are used just as they sound like they would be--to learn fractions. However, they can be used not only to teach specific fractions, but also to look at fractional equivalents and to learn how to add, subtract and multiply fractions.

7. Geoboards

manipulatives geoboards
K2weller @ Picasa

Geoboards are a great tool used to teach shapes, symmetry, angles, congruence, perimeter, area and other geometric concepts. The square peg boards are combined with sturdy elastic bands so students can create their own shapes, using a certain number of pegs to make sure the angle, perimeter or area is correct.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.