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People have used objects to visualize math concepts for millennia. Before the widespread adoption of Arabic numerals, the abacus reigned as a leading math tool for performing complex calculations. Other counting contraptions used by cultures from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica involved ceramic beads, bamboo sticks, rope, and pebbles.  

In the age of calculators, physical objects still have a unique way of helping us represent and learn mathematical concepts. The Singapore math method, which is all about building a solid foundation in the elementary school years, uses manipulatives to make learning math a tactile, visual experience. If you’re new to homeschooling, “manipulatives” is just the term used in math education to describe hands-on learning objects. You might remember your second grade teacher spinning the moveable hands on a giant yellow clock to teach you how to tell time. That was a classic manipulative! 

Manipulatives ground mathematical ideas in the concrete—the “C” of the CPA approach. They bring the topics covered in Textbooks off the page and into real life. Manipulatives are essential to the tangible interaction that makes up the first step of our teaching progression, and with their sensory appeal, they’re a sure way to engage all styles of learners from the start. Some manipulatives are designed for very specific purposes, such as visualizing fractions, while others, such as transparent counters and linking cubes, have wide-ranging applications.  

Our Teacher’s Guides and Home Instructor’s Guides are full of thoughtful activities that put manipulatives to frequent and effective use. While we encourage resourcefulness, having basic manipulatives makes teaching a breeze, saving you time and energy as you transition easily into math activities without having to scrounge around the house for make-do materials. Many of our manipulatives even do double duty as toys; balance scales, which teach weight and volume, are also great additions in the sandbox, while bear counters help students with grouping and counting but are also adorable figures for any kind of play.  

So, where to begin with manipulatives for your Singapore math curriculum? 

Start by referring to these lists of recommended manipulatives for Dimensions Math and recommended manipulatives for Primary Mathematics. Many items span several grades, making them a sound investment, especially if there are younger siblings following in their older sibling’s Singapore math footsteps. 

If you already have the basics, such as dice and whiteboards, browse our manipulatives shop for more tools that could take your teaching to the next level or offer your child more support in a challenging area. If there are manipulatives you love, but don’t see available in our shop, let us know! We’re expanding our collection and welcome your input.