Flipping through a “teacher catalog” the other day, I was amazed at how many different math manipulatives there were out there. Some were cool, some were helpful, and some were just silly things to spend your money on. I tend to be on the cheap side, and buying a bunch of manipulatives that will take up space, gather dust and cost me a fortune just isn’t going to work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my base 10 blocks, and fraction bars can be helpful, but most of what I need to teach math can be found in my kitchen. Here are 20 math manipulatives that can be found in the average kitchen.
1.) Beans, seeds, nuts etc. – Counters and linking blocks are always a big part of math manipulative kits. Any small, but not too small, legume works just the same. Dried kidney beans, dried lima beans, dried black beans, sunflower seeds, peanuts etc. All of these are the perfect size for counting and grouping into addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems. Combine a few different types of beans or nuts into a baggie and kids can sort them, find the fraction of the bag that is _______, graph the contents of a bag, or find the probability of pulling a sunflower seed. The sky’s the limit when it comes to a mixed bag of beans and nuts.
2.) Measuring Cups – Outside of the obvious capacity measurement, measuring cups can also be used to contain groups of counters for multiplication and division problems or work on skills like half full, quarter full etc.
3.) Toothpicks – Toothpicks can be used in a great variety of ways – from toothpick problem solving puzzles to creating 2-dimensional shapes or types of angles (add some mini-marshmallows and you can make 3-dimensional shapes too). Combined with twist ties, toothpicks also make great bundles to help kids learn how to skip count.
4.) Cans and Boxes – Geometry and measurement can be almost completely covered with a few old cereal boxes and coffee cans. 2-dimensional vs. 3-dimensional shapes – check; right angles – check; area of a rectangle – check; area of a circle – check; perimeter – check; volume – check; surface area – check; cut a few apart and you’ve covered nets too!
5.) Straws – Straws can be used as non-standard measuring devices, as counters, and as mock base 10 blocks. To make straws into base 10 blocks, take one straw, cut it into 10 equal pieces. These small bits are your ones. A full straw is your ten’s rod. Tape or rubber band 10 straws together and you have 100’s “block”. Use string to hold 10 hundred’s bundles together and have 1,000.
6.) Cookie Cutters – 2-dimensional shapes of all kinds can be cut quickly from playdough (or regular bread dough if you have it) with cookie cutters. You can then use these cut shapes to work on area, perimeter, lines of symmetry, or any variety of other geometry or measurement concepts.
7.) Kitchen Scale – Work on measuring, reading a scale, converting between grams and kilograms, comparing weights, pretty much anything with measuring weight can be done with a simple kitchen scale.
8.) Cookbooks – Following a recipe is a real life use for both measurement and elapsed time, however simply looking at a cookbook can provide you with problems for doubling, tripling, halving and quartering, as well as discussions about proportions. Even though you can find so many recipes online these days, I always bring in my cookbooks for my Party Planning Math Project.
9.) Colored Cereal – Colored cereals, like Trix or Fruit Loops are ALMOST as good as beans when it comes to being used as counters. I say almost, because cereal tends to disappear into little mouths and needs to be replenished often , where as none of my students ever popped dried kidney beans into their mouths! Cheerios makes a good counter too – and is good for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but colored cereals gives you the chance to work with fractions, probability, and graphing simply by having a variety of colors in one package.
10.) Kitchen Calendar – For all the cute calendar sets out there, I always preferred a regular old kitchen calendar, where students can see the progression of time from month to month, instead of having a new month come and wipe out the last month entirely. Have students cross out the days in a set pattern using crayons or markers, and they can even record on each day the temperature and weather of the day. For anything else that comes with those calendar packets, I have always used my Daily Calendar Books and Number of the Day Posters.
11.) Twist ties – The world’s easiest counting links are made with twist ties. If you have a variety of colors, you can work on patterns within your links. Twist ties are also great for bundling straws, pencils or toothpicks for easy skip counting.
12.) Oranges – Any piece of fruit could be cut into pieces to work on fractions, but oranges are pre-sliced and child friendly! They are a great manipulative for working with fractions and mixed numbers. See this old blog post I wrote about using oranges to help students truly understand mixed numbers.
13.) Paper plates – Paper plates can be used to create fraction circles, student practice clocks or to practice measuring angles with a protractor. Want a fun way to prove to kids that a straight line equals 180 degrees? Take a paper plate and cut it in half. Then, let the kids cut 2 – 4 angles from that semi circle (starting from a center vertex). Measure and label each angle and then put them back together.
14.) Candy bars – Like oranges, candy bars seem to be created for fractions lessons, as you can break them into pieces and easily use them to add, subtract or even multiply fractions. However, candy bars can also make great manipulatives for area, perimeter and surface area.
15.) Timer – Practice math fact fluency, work on elapsed time or have students take turns timing who can define all of their math vocabulary the quickest. Works great with my math fact quizzes. Kitchen timers can be a great manipulative in lots of ways.
What math manipulatives can you find in your kitchen?