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Hands On Math Activities

Make math comprehensible to your students with hands-on math activities.
We list activities by age, operation, and types of manipulatives.
Did you know it's easier to learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide with the aid of hands-on math materials?

That's what math manipulatives are all about. Students can manipulate them and get a real-life feel for what the abstract problems on the page are really all about.

We have our manipulatives listed from preschool to high school. Yes, even secondary students benefit from hands-on math.

addition games sign Check out our new series of math games and activities.

Math Manipulatives

Items are listed here from the easiest to the most advanced.

Cuisenaire Rods

cuis rods Cuisenaire Rods provide not only more fun math activities, but also comprehension of increasingly complex math concepts. We have used a set of these durable rods over and over for two decades. The container is beat up, but the rods have endured countless hours of use. Probably the most flexible set of math manipulatives available, it is also one of the most fun. When students are done with their math activities with the rods, they usually ask to play with them longer. Even "playing" with the rods helps to make abstract concepts more tangible.

The "one" rod is a white one centimeter square block, about the size of a small marshmellow. The "two" rod is two centimeters in length and is red. The light green "three" rod is three centimeters long, etc. The longest rod is the orange "ten" rod.

How do these rods build math awareness? While building towers, boats, or numerous other objects, the child soon realizes that a two rod and a three rod are the same size as the five rod. They learn that the six and four rod are equal to the ten rod; and so are the eight and two rods. As their math skills increase, so do the options for using the rods. They can see that 4 nine rods is the same as 3 ten rods and 1 six rod. They can also be used for division and fractions.

We are carrying the plastic connecting rods. If you have ever tried to make a length of five or six rods, you will appreciate the ability to connect the rods. Age: 6 - 11
Teaching Concepts:
  • Addition, subtraction (Excellent for visualizing why 9+5 = 14)
  • Base Ten
  • Regrouping
  • Multiplication (Much faster than using counters or diagrams to show 8 X 6 by using 6 of the eight rods.)
  • Square roots, simple geometry and simple trigonometry
My only squabble with the Cuisenaire Rods - arguable the single best math manipulative ever invented - is the way the rods move out of place when you are lining them. To solve this problem they now have Connected Rods that snap together. Viola! No more frustration. (We still use our very old and loved wooden blocks though.)

intro set cuis rods Introductory Set of Cuisenaire Rods
This introductory set of 74 plastic, multi-colored connecting rods is perfect for family use and hours of hands-on math activities.
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Other fun math activities with rods:

1. To teach "partners to ten" make a ten quilt as fast as you can. 1+9, 2+8, 3+7, etc.
2. Give a two digit number like "45." The student needs to build an object with rods whose sum is 45.

Make Your Own
They will not be as indurable, but you can make your own Cuisenaire Rods. You will need:
  • Graph paper with 1 cm squares
  • Colored Crayons or Markers
  • Contact paper
Make ten of each rod and cut them out. I recommend using the standard colors so the students will be familiar with them when and if they use the regular 3-dimensional rods.

Dice in Dice

6 Sided Dice
Standard size and shape

dice You get two dice in one. The outer is a standard size die, brightly colored made of translucent plastic. Inside is a miniature die. Both use the typical dot pattern seen on the dice commonly used in games.

Use these for prediction and probability when teaching statistics.

These can be used in Kindergarten and 1st Grade math to reinforce addition facts to 12. Have the student roll the dice, and add the two numbers. For more fast and fun math activities, have two students compete to see who can add the quickest.

In addition to mathematical applications, these dice are also appealing to kids. They may prefer to play with these rather than a set of dice in other games.

Ages 6 - 18
  • Simple Addition up to 12
  • Multiplication up to 6 X 6
  • Statitical probability

3 sets of dice for $1.00 (That is, three dice, each with a smaller die inside.)

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You can simply use any two (or more) regular die to accomplish the same thing.

10 Sided Dice
Decahedral Shape - 1 inch long

dice If you enjoy teaching statistics with the 6-sided double dice, you can multiple the fun with these ten sided dice. These plastic die have one of the ten digits on each side. A smaller miniature die is inside each and also has the ten digits.

You can teach probability with these die for high school statistics.

We also use them to reinforce addition and multiplication tables. Roll the dice, and multiple the two numbers that come up. A quick and fun review - listen to the kids beg for a few more problems!

Ages 6 - 18
  • Addition
  • Multiplication review through 12 X 12
  • Statistics
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Make Your Own?
Good luck! It would be possible to make your own six sided dice with a pattern of a cube. To make a decagonal shape, you can get patterns and cut them out. Beats me how you would get one inside the other. Seems it would be a lot easier to spend the dollar. But, hey, I know how important it is to save a buck now and then, so feel free to try.

Other Uses I've been informed that these dice, in addition to being a welcome method of reviewing addition/multiplication facts, have an entirely different and equally entertaining functioning. Cats love them. After hearing this, I tried it on our very lazy cat and it did indeed get her up and moving to knock the dice around for a while. They like the clicking sounds. But alas, nothing keeps her on her feet too long as she is lazily sleeping as usual. However, this could be a real winner for a house with a young kitten or more ambitious cat.

War With Cards

Maybe you remember playing "War" with a deck of cards. Each person has a stack of playing cards, turns one over at a time, and whoever has the highest number gets the other players' cards for that round. When the deck is complete, the one with the most cards wins. Variations of this game provide fun math activities to reinforce basic math facts. For these games, you can make cards out of index cards. Or, a regular set of playing cards can be used.

Addition War
Each player turns over two cards each turn, adds the numbers, and whoever has the highest number collects all the cards for that round.

If you chose to use regular playing cards; the jack, queen, and king can be removed. Or, they can be a signal to add "ten" to the sum of the other two.

Multiplication War
The same game can be played with multiplication of the two numbers.

Subtraction War
This game can also be played with subtraction. Younger students can subtract the smaller number from the larger, and whoever has the highest answer wins the game.

For older students, a more complex version can be played. The second card can be subtracted from the first card, regardless of which is a larger digit. This gives experience with negative numbers. If one child has a -3, and another a -5; the -3 is the larger number.

For more fun math activities to reinforce math facts, see the ideas with dice below.

Miniature Clock Dials

clock These four inch miniature clocks on cardstock have hour and minute hands that can be moved. Great for small hands.
Age: 5 - 8
Concept: Telling Time
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Hands-On Math Activities with Clocks:
1. Write different times on cards or small slips of paper. (2:30, 6:15, etc.) Every morning, have the child move the hands on the cardboard clock to the written time.
2. If you have a digital clock or watch in the house, have the child set the cardboard clock to the same time.
3. Some students struggle with the concept of "time lapsed." Use the miniature clock to subtract time when doing those word problems.
4. Set the hands of the cardboard clock to a specific time (perhaps dinner time, or the time of an appointment.) Students have to figure out how long until that time arrives.

Pizza Fraction Fun Junior

clock How many kids do you know that do not like pizza? This game uses a favorite food to teach fraction concepts to students of differing abilities at the same time. 7 different games provide months of fun math activities while learning fractions. Eleven double-sided cardboard pizzas are eight inches in diameter. Read more about the Pizza Fraction Fun Jr. game.

Age: 6 - 10
  • Identify fractions
  • Add, and subtract fractions
  • Make equivalent fractions and reduce fractions

Make Your Own:
Yes, you can make your own pizza fractions with heavy weight cardboard. Trace a dinner plate or use the paper disposable plates with the edges removed. Fold in half (and thirds, fourths, sixths, tenths, twelths) to give you a template for making the fraction pieces.

Rainbow Fraction Tiles

rainbow fraction tiles Rainbow Fractions provide more fun math activities with their multi-colored plastic tiles. Red is always equal to "one whole." The pinks are always "one half, etc." The different fractions also include 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 1/8, 1/10, 1/12.

At first the student will learn that three of the orange "1/3" tiles is equal to one "whole." Six of the blue "1/6" tiles also equals one "whole." As they progress, they will learn that one "1/2" and 2 "1/4" will also equal one "whole."

An activity guide is included.
Age: 6 - 12
  • Identify fractions - the stickers that come with this set provide the simplest explanation available. Kids "get it" right away.
  • Adding and subtracting fractions
  • Equivalency

Rainbow Fraction Equivalency Cubes

cubes These cubes are made by the same company as the Rainbow Fraction Tiles listed above and use the same color codes. Instead of flat tiles, however, these are three dimensional blocks that snap together. They also teach more advanced mathematical concepts.

One side of the cube has the fraction, another side has the decimal, and a third side has a percentage. The fourth side is blank.

For instance, the pink cubes represent "1/2" (as they do in the tiles and all Rainbow Fraction products.) One side of the cube has "1/2" printed on it; another side has "0.5"; and a third side has "50%." As they work with the cubes, the students can see and feel how decimals, fractions, and percentages are interrelated.

If your student has trouble with the concepts of decimals and percents, there is no other tool as helpful as this. They can easily understand how 8 of the "1/8" cubes equals one "whole." It makes sense that 1/8 equals half of 1/4; and if 1/4 equals 25%, then 1/8 equals 12.5%. They can also see the correlation between 12.5% and 0.125.

51 cubes - multi-colored, interlocking, plastic
Age: 8 to 14
  • Compare Fractions, Decimals, Percents - Simply put, there is nothing else that can do this like these cubes

    More Hands-On Math activities with Equivalency Cubes:
    Play a game of catch with a ball, frisbie, or other object. The skill required should be slightly challenging for the student so he or she doesn't catch or miss all of the throws. Start by using the 1/10 cubes and playing ten "rounds." The student gets one cube for each correct catch; you get a cube for each one missed. As the game is being played, have the student calculate their score in fractions, decimals, or percents with each toss.

    When they understand the concept with the 1/10 cubes, move to the 1/8 or 1/12 and change the number of rounds accordingly.

    Power Solids Geometric Shapes

    geometry shapes I wish we had these when one of my sons was struggling with some of the high school geometry problems in Saxon Math. These are a great help for grasping area and volume of geometric shapes.

    This 3-dimensional set of 12 shapes is made of translucent plastic. They are about 2 inches high and can be filled with either solid or liquid ingredients. This allows the student to compare surface area and volume in real life, not just as a mathematical formula.

    The set includes a cone, a square pyramid, a triangular pyramid, a hemisphere, a cylinder, a sphere, a rectangular prism, cube, small traingular prism and large triangular prism, hexagonal prism, and square prism.

    Age: 12 - 17
    Concept: Geometric volume and area

    More fun math activities: Fill with liquids which have been measured in mililiters. Then fill with solids which were measured by weight.

    Laminated X-Y Axis

    laminated axis Do your students get tired of drawing the axis in order to graph their algebra problems? Here's a solution. A laminated 8 1/2 by 11 inch gird is re-usable. Students simply have to mark on the board with dry erase or other washable markers. Use different colored markers to solve more than one problem on the same board. Then erase and re-use the next day. The grid is one centemeter and has bolded lines for the x axis and y axis.
    Age: 10 - 17
    Concept: Graphs

    Our Other Math Activity Pages

    See our other math pages for hands-on ideas of teaching and learning math.

    Activities to Teach Math Skills
    How to use math games and activities to teach math skills. Turn an activity into a game, or set up math stations at your living room table.

    • Addition
      Activities, games, and manipulatives to teach addition, step by step from preschool to upper elementary. Addition activities and games.

    • Subtraction
      Teach subtraction with manipulatives, activities, and games. From preschool to upper elementary, demonstrate how to subtract with increasingly more complex problems. Subtraction activities and games.

    • Multiplication
      Make learning multiplication easier with our multiplication activities which progress from easiest to most complex.

    Math Worksheets

    yellow math worksheets book
    Hundreds of Worksheets - Only $5.99

    We are happy to promote the Math Worksheets for Kindergarten through 3rd grade from our friends
    at www.A-to-Z-Worksheets.com. You can't beat the price for professionally done worksheets for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

    Why are we recommending worksheets when we so strongly promote hands-on math? Worksheets can accomplish several things:
    • Review of Concepts
    • Increase speed of computation
    • Give you a tool for measuring progress
    Yes, hands on is the best way to teach the meaning of math concepts. But the paper and pencil worksheets give them frequent independent practice with their new skills.


    Have you found other fun math activities? Share them with us on our Reviews page. They do not have to be items for sale.

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