Resources for Teaching Early Math Concepts Hands-On

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We started homeschooling when my gifted 2e daughter was 3.   She was SO ready to learn...

We took a hands-on approach to early learning and for math, we often were able to just use things that we already had around the house.  Today, I am sharing about what we did for early math.

When you little, everything is math!  

Toys can be counted, towels sorted and put into sets.  Cookie making became a lesson in adding and subtracting, and beads got sorted into patterns as well, as making necklaces.  Also, buttons, shells, rocks, sorted by shape, color, size, what have you.  Even laundry could be sorted into sets.  All of this is good early math learning!

My little one learned best through play. Basic math concepts, such as counting, sorting, bigger/smaller, same/different, adding, subtracting, and more advanced skills as well, can all be learned through play with manipulatives.  I also taught a hands-on math class at our local Parks Dept, and had a great experience doing that in a group setting, as well as 1 on 1 with my daughter.

  Making a Manipulatives Kit

Making a kit can be so frugal and simple.  We just collected small items from around the house, or from our beach collections of rocks, etc. 

Manipulatives can really be any small object that you have around your house.  Buttons, shells, rocks, etc, can be sorted by shape, color, or size, and grouped into sets. This teaches early math concepts, as they are play!  Even laundry could be sorted into sets, or by size, small, medium and large, such as with towels. 

We put our manipulatives into a shoe box, decorated it for fun, and got it out only for math play time. That made these little toys and objects special to her.

Some of the things that we included were:
1.  Rocks collected from the beach
2. Legos, or other small toys, to sort into sets, by color, size, or shape.
3.  Our collection of old buttons
4.  Pine cones

Stir the Wonder has a great post on Free and Affordable Math Manipulatives, full of more ideas for your kit.

Free & Affordable Math Manipulatives for Kids to use with hands-on learning activities!

I have more about manipulatives kits here.  You can teach all of the early math concepts through manipulative play.  Here's more on that...

Early Math Concepts

1. Number Concepts: 

Using small objects. Ask your child: How many is four? How many is six? What if you take one away? Add two? Ask lots of questions for number concepts to develop. Later, your child can practice this in Numbers and Patterns-K.

2. Sets:

Math is all about sets. Children making their own sets will provide true learning! They can enjoy sorting their toys into sets. Sorting buttons by shape, then by size, etc. There are sorting activities everywhere! My daughter enjoyed sorting laundry into sets by grouping the like sized towels/washcloths, etc. Buttons can be sorted by size, color, or shape into sets, etc.

3. Addition and Subtraction: 

Cookies are the best for this! Or give your child a cookie sheet to work on with a limited number of toys. Ask your child to add the trucks to the cars or other simple problems.

4. Mathematical Patterns: 

As you know, math is made up of patterns. Crayons can be used to sort into patterns, such a finding all the orange and blue crayons and lining them up for a two part pattern (e.g., orange/blue, orange/blue,etc.) Making a bead necklace is fun too. Use a two part pattern, or a three part pattern.
As your young child gets better, add in a fourth part (e.g., one more color, blue/red/yellow/purple, repeat, etc.) Coloring patterns can be fun too. There are some patterns to color in Numbers and Patterns –K.

5. Equivalents: 

Making equivalents is fun! Rods can be used for this but you can make your own out of construction paper. First, cut out a strip of paper that is 10 inches long, say in blue. Then cut out cubes that are 1 inch in size, in yellow. Ask your child how many yellows equals a blue? He/she will find that 10 yellow cubes equals one blue (10 inch strip). And they will be doing equivalents!!Your child can discover these herself! Everything that your child discovers for herself will stick and prepare her for more advanced math later!

Early Math Resources

When we needed more ideas for our math play, we turned to some workbooks by Evan-Moor or Teacher Created Materials.  Both are frugal and done by well respected educational publishers.  Here are some of our favorites:

Numbers & Patterns, Grade K

Lots of great ideas for math play here.  Click the title to read my review, and there is also more info here.

Geometric Shapes and Beginning Fractions (1st) thumbnail
 Shapes and Beginning Fractions 
The book above gave us more ideas for our math play.  We usually used our manipulatives along with the book, so that my daughter could do the early math problems hands-on.  More info is here.  We would take one page at a time, encouraging my daughter to solve the problems by using her manipulatives.  Handling the manipulatives and working out the early math problems in the book, made math fun and so understandable.  One evening we  made pizza night into a lesson on fractions.


Who gets to eat the last piece? More here.

Evan-Moor has lots more preschool, kindergarten  and early elementary workbooks, here.  Also, we made our own kit, but if you are interested in buying some prepared manipulatives, here are some to browse.  

Note - These includes affiliate links to products that we love and have used or would use in our homeschool, if my daughter wasn't already in college!  Please see my disclosure policy.

I just had to include this picture of my daughter below....

..... who is now a college junior, having a great time.


I hope that this gives you ideas and a jumping off point for homeschooling math with your little ones.  And I would love to hear about your early math ideas in the comments, or any questions that you might like to discuss.  I am happy to chat with families on my Facebook page through messaging. 

This post is part of the iHN Ultimate List for Hands-On Homeschool Ideas.  

Thanks for stopping by,


Betsy blogs at BJ's Homeschool about high school and college and all the fun of homeschooling the early years too.  Betsy also offers free help to homeschool families.  She is the author of Homeschooling High School with College in Mind, a simple guide tohigh school, with tips for making the college admissions process easier too.

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