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.

What can parents do when their child is struggling with addition?

One of a child’s greatest needs is to memorize the addition facts. This task comes easy for many; but some struggle and fall behind in their math studies because of this one single necessity.

What can parents do when they find their child struggling in this area?

Immediate intervention is needed. More complicated math utilizing the process of addition should be delayed until this situation is remedied.

Figure out why the child is struggling.

First, process why he or she may be struggling. Were foundational steps skipped or overlooked? Does the child understand what the individual numbers represent? For instance, does the child understand that the picture 8 represents a collection of 8 objects or 8 sets of objects?

When teaching numbers, sometimes this knowledge is easily overlooked. A child may be trying to memorize images of number figures without any understanding of what those images represent. For example, the picture 8 plus the picture 8 equals the picture 16 instead of 8 objects added to 8 more objects equals 16 objects total. Some children need more time to process this information.

Utilize manipulatives to teach concepts.

The use of manipulatives will aid understanding.

Yes, I know some teachers frown on the use of objects to help a student learn their facts. They insist on memorization. Yet, when students are struggling with a particular math problem, such teachers model the addition by the use of their fingers. This is a bad practice and greatly hinders the child. Children following this teaching model quickly learn to rely on fingers.

The use of manipulatives diverts the child away from the use of fingers. Each object is representative of 1 and when added together those 1’s become a collection of more than 1.

No matter the learning style of the individual, this hands-on approach to addition greatly increases the struggling child’s ability to understand and memorize the facts.

Just what are manipulatives and what are some ways that they can be used to teach math? We’ll discuss this in a later post. Right now, since you have read this far, you may have a struggler about which you are concerned. Hopefully, the next post will be of benefit to you.