Creating Manipulatives for your Preschooler

Manipulatives are fun for preschoolers to play with, but more importantly, they teach kids a variety of skills, ranging from physical abilities such as fine motor skills, to mental development such as abstract thinking. Unfortunately many manipulatives, such as Magna Tiles and other fun toys for preschoolers, are prohibitively expensive if you’re sticking to a budget. Supplement store-bought manipulative sets with ones you make yourself, perhaps even with your child’s help!

  • Pom pom magnets: All you need is a fridge or another magnetic surface and a set of these colorful, fluffy magnets, and your preschooler can be entertained for hours! To make these inexpensive manipulatives, buy a bag of quarter-sized pom-poms and small magnets to hot glue onto them.
  • Clothespin alphabet: Write a different letter on each of 26 different clothespins, and make a complete set of manipulatives that’s great for teaching fine motor skills. These easy DIY manipulatives used to be a staple in every preschool classroom. Kids can line up the clothespins along the top of an easel, or you can string a clothesline across a wall in their craft corner or playroom.
  • Lacing beads and cards: Preschoolers love lacing just about anything! Luckily these are fairly inexpensive manipulatives to put together yourself. Lacing cards can be made at home with cardboard, scissors, and a hole punch. You can purchase large beads or use almost anything else instead, such as tube-shaped pasta. For laces, you can use old (but clean) shoelaces, ribbon with fray check on each end, or even just colorful yarn with a little tape over each end.
  • Puzzles: Anything can become a puzzle, from a photograph mounted on cardboard, to the back of a cereal box with a cool graphic on it. Just cut out pieces using straight lines, squiggly lines, or even in such a way so that you can work on fractions.
  • Duplo math: Looking for an easy way to introduce your child to math and fractions? Chalk markers can be used to write on duplo blocks, and then wiped off after math practice is over or when your child is ready for a new challenge. Start with whole numbers and encourage your preschooler to build a tower with the blocks in order, or put together two-digit numbers. As your child gets better at math, you can use different-sized duplos to introduce the concept of fractions by writing the corresponding fractions on the side.
  • Paper plate practice clock: You can easily use a paper plate, some cardboard for the hands, and a brad to hold it all together and make your own practice clock. Time’s up!

Don’t let the term “manipulatives” scare you away from making your own, as it’s basically just a fancy name for the toys you see in most preschool classrooms. If you are interested in seeing what a fully stocked math and manipulatives center looks like – and the rest of the classroom too, of course – call Montessori Childrens Center today to set up a tour of our Montessori school. ¬†We enjoy having prospective parents and students visit our classrooms to see the hands-on Montessori method first hand.

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