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Teacher Tips: Making the Most of Manipulatives

This is a good time to take a second look at your manipulatives for a mid-year spruce up

  • Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K, 1–2

1 Get organized! Use placemats or trays on child-size tables to give children their own individual work areas.

2 Select materials carefully. To maximize interest and minimize disorganization, display a limited number of manipulatives. If shelves are filled with too many choices, children can become overwhelmed.

3 Play ... then put away! Place manipulatives on low, open shelves so they are readily accessible and can be returned easily to their proper places. To facilitate selection and cleanup, organize materials from simple to complex levels of difficulty.

4 Clarify the process. Provide simple directions for removing, using, and returning manipulatives. Introduce materials and demonstrate proper care. Be available to help children problem-solve clean-up situations.

5 Position for inspiration! Placing a clear box of dinosaur figurines next to the bucket of LEGOS will incite children's curiosity and initiate some interesting activities.

6 Label clearly. Uncluttered labels help children make thoughtful decisions about their selections and encourage children to work responsibly with materials. To make labels, use catalog pictures of objects or photos of children playing with the items, glue a 3-D sample piece on a container, draw an outline of the manipulative, or print the name.

7 Rub and scrub together. Encourage children's involvement in caring for manipulatives. Polish or rub on mineral oil to spruce up wooden table blocks and dominoes. Sand rough edges on wooden beads and parquetry blocks. Wash plastic manipulatives.

8 Collect storage receptacles. Ask parents to save clean containers to help store manipulatives. Dish pans, sand pails, and baskets can hold figurines or table blocks; envelopes velcroed to trays can hold flat pieces of lotto cards. Egg cartons and ice cube trays are wonderful receptacles for letter and number tiles.

9 Make creative containers. Have fun! Design a "bead bank" with a large plastic jar. Decorate a "puzzle barn" made from a boot box. Besides encouraging children to organize their manipulatives and keep the pieces from becoming lost, these containers enable them to carry the materials to and from their work area.

10 Pick up playfully. Invite children to play a category game with a buddy to put shapes or colored pieces back in the right containers. Add a blindfold for tactile fun! Have a "parts party." Children can find manipulative pieces in the "lost and found" box and return them to their proper places. ECT

  • Subjects:
    Block Play, Classroom Management, Manipulatives, Early Math, Homework and Studying Support, Sorting, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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