ABC and 123: Homemade Math Manipulatives & Ideas for PreK-K Learners

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Homemade Math Manipulatives & Ideas for PreK-K Learners

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Today's guest post is from Lynn, who blogs at Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile, where she journals her son's love of reading and their recent foray into pre-school homeschooling.

Math Ideas for Preschool/Kindergarten Age: What to Do With A Set of 20 Numbers

Our math learning box is labeled "Fun with Numbers," and that's how we approach math around here. The nice thing about introducing concepts way early is that there is zero pressure to learn anything on a schedule! It's all in good fun here.

After making our heart-shaped sunbutter cup treats, I was inspired to cut some heart shapes out of Model Magic for an upcoming playdate this week (our theme is "H," so we used a cookie cutter to cut a bunch of heart shapes out of clay, poked holes in them, and the kids can paint/glitter glue them to decorate and then string them to make bracelets). If you haven't used Model Magic before, give it a try! It dries to a nice solid, slightly spongy consistency that can be painted or written on, and the finished product doesn't dry out and crack the way finished play-doh creations do. We love it for Christmas ornaments and homemade handprints. Anyway, I may have just gone a little bit overboard with the leftover clay...

I decided to make a set of 1-20 numbers (as well as +, -, and =) for each of the kids. Later that day, once the Model Magic had dried, the Bibliophile and I had fun playing with his set. Of course, this could be done with numbers on paper, bottlecaps, stickers, etc. - I'm pretty sure we have a wooden set of numbers from the dollar store around here somewhere - but the novelty of the clay numbers seemed to capture his interest nicely.

Here are 5 ideas of what you can do with a set of 20 numbers:

1. Put them in order. We did this once, and he got bored around #15. But if your child is just learning to count, this would be perfect.

2. Set up addition and subtraction problems. This is what we did the most of. You could even flip the other hearts over to their blank sides and use them as counting aids.

3. Skip counting. This is one of those concepts that doesn't come naturally to me to teach (like telling time on a clock - "when the little hand is on the 5, that means 25" - huh?). Anyway, I showed him briefly what counting by 2's meant, but I think we are awhile away from this.

4. Which number is bigger/smaller? We've been doing it with three-digit numbers, but you can do it with as small a number as you want. Another variation is: "can you find/make a number bigger than this number?"

5. And, of course, matching your numbers up to your Disney Cars' racing numbers.

Another idea would be to put a few objects out (i.e. five cotton balls) and have the child match the right number to the set.

Comment! Do you have other ideas to share about what we could do with these numbers?

Disclosure: If you click on any links in this post and purchase anything, Lynn may earn a small commission through her affiliate relationship with


  1. We've been exploring number lines. These would make a great tangible number line! Much more fun than moving your finger over the dots on the page. :)

  2. I thought you may be interested in a math manipulative that I invented called the ZeroSum Ruler. it makes working with negative numbers much easier and more concrete. My graduate thesis results showed a 62% decrease in student error on a delayed-retention test one month after the last of three activities with the ruler. Before the ruler, I was getting a lot of "-22 + 5 = -27, etc., where my students were confusing addition with the rules of multiplication. You can check out my site at