Why parents should use practical materials and maths manipulatives at home with their under 5′s

Young children learn best from multi-sensory learning and a tactile approach where they can see, touch, move, manipulate and explore ideas through physical means. This is why nurseries & schools all over the country are filled with concrete maths materials. Teachers use these manipulatives extensively to convey key mathematical concepts and ideas. Examples of these materials include, unifix cubes, 3D shapes, counters, number lines, beadstrings, number fans, large dice etc. Yet parents at home, tend not to have these common classroom materials and often have to rely on pencil-paper methods which do not easily capture the imagination of our 3-5 year olds.

Indeed, academic research into the benefits of using manipulatives to teach maths clearly shows its positive impact compared to more traditional instructional methods that emphasise computational fluency and a reliance on completing worksheets (Clements 1999;  Driscoll, 1981; Parham, 1983; Sowell, 1989; Cramer et al., 2002). For many years now, the use of manipulatives is widely accepted by US and UK educators as good practice in schools. Pupils using manipulatives not only learn concepts better, but also enjoy learning maths more than pupils who do not (Rust 1999; McClung 1998).

Certainly for the early years, children only understand abstract concepts after experiencing the ideas at a concrete level (Piaget, 1952). Pupils who are able to see, touch, sort, take apart and manipulate objects, understand abstract mathematical concepts more completely than those peers who do not have the same kind of experiences at a concrete level (Heddens, 1986). It is however important to point out that use of manipulatives on its own will not necessary enhance a child’s maths skills/knowledge. It is equally important to couple use of manipulatives with adult ‘talk’, specific questioning and directed instructions….this dialogue can help children to discover and focus on the associated mathematical concepts – building bridges from the concrete to working with the abstract (symbols).

Home School Connect does just this. Parents are armed with the Early Years Foundation Stage concrete materials and curriculum know how (activities, questions to ask, what to talk about with your child) all included in one pack – bringing the maths classroom into the home. Children can begin to use the EYFS Maths pack at home from as early as two and half years old and continue to use the pack through Nursery, Reception and Year 1 (3 curriculum years). As a result, children’s ability and confidence in maths increases paving the way for continued success into Key stage 1. To learn more, go to EYFS Maths Pack.

Article by Dr Sangeeta Silva.