Strugglers who find addition to be a chore may find it a fun adventure when given the opportunity to learn with manipulatives. The use of these hands-on objects leads to purposeful learning in a stress-free manner. Allowing children time to “play” with such objects increases their imagination, stimulates brain activity, develops motor skills, and lays a foundation for learning mathematical concepts.
Cubes, dice, building blocks, building logs, buttons, beads on a string, ice cream sticks, pinto beans, even army men — what do these have in common? Each of them are wonderful tools that can be manipulated in order to accomplish learning.
The use of such tools is an inexpensive way to build upon the knowledge that a child already possesses. During play with various objects, a child learns how to build up and take down, gather together and take away, group together and take from, and sort by his or her preference. At the beginning stages, however, a child does not know the official mathematical label that we would use for such manipulation, but through play the groundwork is being laid upon which we purposefully begin to teach the foundational concepts and principles that lead to the understanding of the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.
The introduction of handmade or purchased rectangular rods that are proportionally sized lead to even greater learning. Several companies have manufactured rectangular rods that are a great addition to your arsenal of manipulatives. However, knowing the limitations of household budgets, poster board or card stock can be used to create a representation of these rods, howbeit, they are not three-dimensional.
Place value is traditionally taught in some schools through the use of an abacus. Some students struggle with the use of the abacus because not all students have their own to manipulate. It is easier for a child to understand the concept when they have their own manipulatives to handle and engage in learning.
An inexpensive way to teach children place value is through the use of dried beans and ice cream sticks. Single beans are used for counting by ones, sorting into groups of equal amounts, etc. Ten beans will fit nicely onto an ice cream stick.
Using proper glue, allow the child to make his or her own “ten” sticks so he or she will realize that there are ten and only ten beans on each stick. Ten of the “ten” sticks can be placed side by side to create “hundred” sticks — just glue 2 sticks across the back to hold them together. A variety of mathematical concepts can be taught using these sticks.
So how can we use manipulatives to teach addition? By now, you probably have a variety of ways rambling through your mind, but we will give some direction in a later post. For now, begin to let your mind wander back to your childhood days when you played with blocks and logs. Yes, learning can be fun — at least some of the time.