For helping kindergartners learn their math, manipulatives such as math counters are fantastic.  Besides learning to count and make simple additions and subtractions, students are also at the stage of learning what number symbols mean.  They are also little children and learn best with lots of hands on and fun activities.

Some very popular math counters are those shaped like little teddy bears of all different colors.  The cute faces of the bears and their satisfying chunky shape and texture and weight in the hand make them fun for children to work with right as they are.  Teachers can also make up little stories about the bears involving simple math problems.  There are similar counters available shaped like other animals, such as cute little frogs.

Another useful math counter is the simple colored disk.  These smooth, round flat counters are easy to work with.  They slide nicely across a desk, and can be grouped and regrouped to indicate addition and subtraction.  They store easily in less than half the space of the teddy bear counters.  They lend themselves to the fun learning game Play Store, where students can use them like coins and count out the right number to make “purchases”.

For a special treat, many teachers have great success using pieces of candy as counters in the classroom.  Students will love having subtraction problems that involve eating their math counters, or addition problems that involve getting more candy from the teacher.  Diminutive treats such as red hots or Skittles are good because students can have more of them before the serving size gets out of control.  On the other hand, these unwrapped candies do become sticky with use, so wrapped candies such as Hershey kisses or peppermints can be neater.  There is also the advantage that rather than having students eat them on the spot, the candies can be sent home with them at the end of the day.

Another very successful and popular variety of math counters are the base ten counters.  These come typically in blue or yellow and consist of one centimeter unit cubes, ten centimeter rods that look like ten of the cubes stuck together, and ten by ten centimeter “one hundred squares”.  There are also ten by ten by ten cubes illustrating one thousand.  These are phenomenal for helping students develop a firm grasp of addition and subtraction, especially carrying and borrowing.  They also help to illustrate some multiplication concepts.

To start, children can line up ten unit cubes in a line counting them out loud, then place a rod beside them.  Counting the units represented on the rod, they can then see that each is ten units.  When they are confident in understanding that the rod is the same as the column of ten units, then the rods can be used to help them represent large numbers that would be cumbersome with teddy bears or disks such as thirty-three.  This gives students continuing hands on support moving into multi-digit addition.  With this support, they can even learn it at a younger age than otherwise.

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