Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Classical Preschool - Manipulate

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Welcome to day three of The Classical Preschool!  Today we are talking about manipulation.  To read the other posts in this five-day series, click on the picture above.

First of all, let me start out by saying that I'm not talking today about manipulating your children!  What I'm talking about is having your preschoolers learn by using manipulatives.  I will be focusing on the subject of math, but this concept could really be applied to other subjects as well.

Why should young children use manipulatives?

From the time children are babies, they love to touch the world around them.  The sense of touch is a great way that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers learn.  This is a natural means of exploring and figuring things out.

Preschoolers are very bright, but they often lack the coordination and fine motor skills that it takes to do grammar stage work.  While it might be hard write down answers to math problems, then can easily show answers by using blocks, beads, rods, etc.  (This can be applied to writing as well.  Perhaps your child is learning how to spell, but doesn't have the stamina to write more then a few words.  You could have them spell out words using magnets or stamps.)

Young children need concrete information.  Their developing brains are not yet ready for abstract ideas.  The symbols attached to most math problems are meaningless and confusing to young children, even though the concepts behind them are not.  If you wrote out the problem 3+2=? for your preschooler, they would probably have no idea what you were asking for, or that you were even asking anything at all!  If you spoke the problem "If you have three crayons and I give you two more, how many would you then have?" they can grasp that and figure out the answer.  They would simply grab some crayons and manipulate them to find the answer.

In classical education, the grammar of math is learning the basics of arithmetic.  Children need to learn how numbers can be put together and separated.  They need to know their times tables and other math facts in order to enter the logic stage well-equipped.  Math facts can and should be memorized, but for preschoolers, helping them understand what is going on through manipulatives is very helpful.

How does a child use manipulatives in a classical preschool?

Two Years Old

When your child is two, they will be learning how to count.  They can definitely memorize the numbers without understanding what they represent, but using manipulatives is very helpful.  Simply count blocks as you stack them, apples as you put them in your cart, and pictures on a page in their favorite book.

Manipulatives do not have to relate directly to math.  Introduce your two year old to puzzles, foam letters, legos, and other helpful learning 'toys.'

Check out this post, A Closer Look at Numbers, to see some of what we did with manipulatives when my son was 2.

Three Years Old

Three year olds will most likely have a fair grasp on the concept of 'how many,' so the next step is letting them play around with combining these numbers into groups.  Give your child a handful of cereal and tell them story problems like: "If you have 5 pieces of cereal and your sister gives you 3 more pieces, how many will you have?"  As long as your child can count out numbers of items, they can do this simple type of addition problem.  Repeat this type of question with all sorts of scenarios.  It won't feel like work for them, but they will begin to understand the concept of addition.

This is also a great age to begin playing board games.  Having a child roll a dice, count the numbers, and then move the correct number of spaces, is a great way to practice the basics of math.

Continue providing them with puzzles to work on, increasing their difficulty as necessary.  Puzzles challenge young one's minds and help them to start thinking about spacial relations, sorting, lines, etc.

Here are a few posts showing how we used manipulatives when my son was three:

Four Years Old

Not much will change here, except that your child will be able to handle more story problems at a time.  As they get comfortable with manipulating small amounts of numbers, you can increase the number of items.  When they understand the concept of addition, try some subtraction type problems: "Jane had five balls, but one rolled away.  How many did she have left?"

You can have your child practice grouping like types of items together, compare larger and smaller groups, grouping the same number of items into multiple piles (showing multiplication), and anything else you can think of doing with manipulatives.

Once again, increase the difficulty of their puzzles and play lots of board games.  You can introduce skip counting and more complicated addition by playing with coins or using a moveable clock.  Have your child bake with you and have them count as you add the eggs, or see how many quarter cups are in a whole cup.

Resources for Manipulation

Honestly, I don't have anything to share here.  Just grab anything that you have around the house, coins, blocks, puzzles, dice, food, or anything else that suits the occasion!  I have never made math a 'subject' that needs to get done every day in our preschool years, we just simply practice moving objects around seeing what happens!

What are your favorite household items to have your child use as manipulatives?

Do you have any favorite games, puzzles, or other store-bought items that you have found extremely helpful?

This series is a part of the iHomeschool Network summer Hopscotch!  Click the picture below to find other great series' from the ladies of the iHN.


  1. You can never ever go wrong with playdough. :o)

    Also anything that can be counted; I keep plastic coins, laminated paper shapes, an awesome abacas, and jigsaws. The list of manipulatives is pretty much endless, but the previous are favorites.

    Play kitchens, play homes. Have you seen how much stuff they have for preschoolers on ebay? Way cool compared to when I was a child. :o)

    1. Yes! Playdough is always a favorite. I don't like how messy it is though =) When we get it as a present, I always sent it to grandma and I the only one who does that? ;)

      Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have always loved the idea of hands-on learning. I've kept manipulatives within easy reach since my son stopped putting things into his mouth.

    This is a great series!

    I have a small question, will you still be doing the link-ups? We are just reaching a stage in our homeschool where I feel more "genuine" calling ourselves part of the trivium and was looking forward to participating. :)

    1. Thanks for the great comment!

      Yes, the link-up is still going strong, I just actually had a friend host it this week since I had this series going on. I don't know if you follow me on facebook/twitter/google+ but I shared on there that it would be at the different address this week (not that everyone always sees those posts anyways). If you wanted to check the posts out this week, here is where it is...