Abstract math concepts can be difficult for kids to grasp when they remain purely theoretical. Before little ones can wrap their minds around a concept, they often need to get their hands on something concrete that they can touch, count, sort, compare and measure.

That’s what makes math manipulatives such an ideal teaching tool. Check out the guide below to make the most of your math manipulatives…

## Hands-on Experience

Provide children time to freely explore when you first introduce a new manipulative for math.

Most manipulatives are designed to be colorful, fun and inviting. So let kids play with them a bit and get it out of their systems. After a few minutes, they’ll be ready for more formal instruction. Begin your lesson by modeling the activity so students understand how to use the manipulative.

## All Hands on Deck

Allow plenty of time for hands-on, small group activities. Remember that there’s a trial-and-error process that students must go through when working with manipulatives.

Sometimes students need a little extra time to build these valuable reasoning and problem solving skills. Students gain the most benefits from working in small groups with manipulatives, especially those that promote communication and social skills.

## Give Them a Big Hand!

Assess students and give positive feedback. As often as possible, observe students as they work with math manipulatives and provide plenty of encouragement to ensure that the manipulatives help your students understand abstract concepts.

## The Hand-off

The ultimate goal is to transition students to pencil and paper.

The last step, then, is to graduate to a representational manner—showing students the math concepts using pictures that stand for the manipulatives.

## Keep a Variety at Hand

Use more than one kind of manipulative in math for activities on the same topic, because learners often associate a task with the math manipulative used. Different textures, colors, and shapes of manipulatives also cater to various learning styles.

## Let Kids Lend a Hand

When the activity is done, show students how to properly store the manipulatives in buckets or totes.