10 Toys That Make Fantastic Math Manipulatives

If you ever decided to poll a large group of homeschoolers to ask what the most difficult subject to teach is, math would undoubtedly be at the top of the list. The most crucial time to get kids on board with this harrowing subject is in the primary years while hands-on learning activities can still be incorporated to learn basic computing skills. Homeschooling parents seem to realize this and search the internet for (often expensive) math manipulatives to use in their lessons. 

As a frugal homeschooling mom, I’ve discovered that purchasing manipulatives for the sole purpose of teaching math is highly unnecessary when there are so many tools to be discovered right in the kids’ toy boxes. Save yourself some money and consider using these:

10 Toys That Make Fantastic Math Manipulatives


toys as math manipulatives


1. Shopkins

If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen countless pictures of my kids doing math with Shopkins in the background. We’ve used them for counting, learning ordinal numbers, sorting colors, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and fractions. They’re our favorite math helper. (Grossery Gang is a great alternative for boys who don’t want anything to do with Shopkins.)


2. Legos

In addition to everything Shopkins can be used for, Legos are a great way to learn place value because of stacking them into groups of ten. They’re also an excellent way to introduce basic geometry.


3. Dominoes

We love using these as a reinforcement for learning the different number combinations in basic addition. And setting them up to fall in a pattern is not only mathematical, but it’s a great way to celebrate a math lesson that was well done!


4. Dice

When most people think of dice, they think of games like Monopoly and Yahtzee, but dice are one of the best math manipulatives you can get. I don’t know about your children, but so often my younger kids have to count out 6+5 on their fingers, yet they always know instantly what 6+5 is when it’s rolled in a game. Helping your kids to make the connection between basic addition and the sum of two dice is easy and fun. What’s more, they can even be used for multiplication and division with older kids, especially if you have several dice on hand.


5. Play Doh

Play Doh is a wonderful manipulative for tactile learners. Of all the ways to learn fractions, what can be more fun than rolling out a “pizza” and cutting it into slices to share with others?


6. Twozies

These are rather new in our house, but they are a hit. While they can be used for mainly the same sorts of things as Shopkins, since the object of Twozies is finding the baby/animal partners, this is a creative way to teach pairs, doubles, and counting by twos.


7. Playing cards

Like dice, cards are usually a staple in every household, but they’re usually not thought of as a math tool. Kids associate cards with games, so it’s often easier for them to learn to add and subtract when relating it to a card game. “War” is an awesome way to teach greater than and less than, too.


8. Hot Wheels cars

How much more fun can math get than when cars zoom into the parking lot for addition and speed off into the sunset for subtraction?


9. Orbeez

Orbeez are another great sensory activity that can be combined with teaching mathematical concepts. Kids will love learning facts and sorting while running their fingers through these squishy spheres of fun!


10. Tsum Tsums

Tsum Tsums are also one of our newer toys, but ones that we love. Since the object of these is to collect the small, medium, and large editions of the same characters in order to stack them, these are a creative way to teach small/medium/large and same/different.


Don’t let tackling math with your kids intimidate you, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t waste your money on expensive manipulatives when your house is already full of them. Take the time to go through your kids’ toys or your game cabinet to see what you can come up with. Math is only as fun as you make it!


For more homeschool tool ideas, be sure to visit iHomeschoolNetwork.com!

everyday tools for homeschool moms


Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

23 thoughts on “10 Toys That Make Fantastic Math Manipulatives”

  1. Thanks for clearing up the mathcentric manipulative mystique. Like you, we’ve been using whatever’s at hand. Our five year old likes to draw pictures to illustrate all her math problems, and it woks like a champ.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for these great ideas! Sometimes I get too caught up about homeschooling “the right way” that I forget the simple things already available around us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course, I’ve got an enormous bin full of manipulatives from my classroom for Gv to use, but that doesn’t stop us from using stuffed animals, marbles, pencil grippers (Gv calls them “bombgee balls” and make up a whole game with them), and Strawberry Shortcake dolls (my old collection, which we gave her for Christmas).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I had never heard of Shopkins until this past Christmas when we bought some as gifts for some little girls. I asked my niece how she plays with hers, but I can see how they’d be useful for math!

    Liked by 1 person

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