Mathematical manipulatives help your child understand maths

Manipulatives will really help your child to gain a deep understanding of maths. For students who are struggling, they provide the key to making an abstract idea concrete and visual. Manipulatives are physical resources that can be moved around to help students build up their understanding. In my sessions, I use a mixture of physical and online manipulatives. Contrary to popular belief, manipulatives are not just for younger children. Research has found that they are increasingly valuable for older students, particularly when learning about algebra and negative numbers. Many students find Maths too abstract and these manipulatives really make a huge difference, enabling students to build images in their mind. Below, I list a few of my favourite manipulatives that I use on a regular basis.

My top 6 favourite manipulatives to help children understand mathematical concepts

Cuisenaire rods


Cuisenaire rods are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment I use. These manipulatives help your child develop their number sense and are fantastic for teaching younger students basic addition, subtraction and multiplication. I also use them as a simple but effective way to introduce algebra to younger children. Cuisenaire rods are also fantastic for older students, especially with developing a deep understanding of fractions and ratio. 

Base 10 blocks

Dienes manipulatives

Base 10 blocks (also known as Dienes) are another amazing manipulative to help your child understand the size of numbers. I use them to develop the concept of exchange and grouping, particularly with addition and subtraction. If your child is struggling to understand place value concepts, particularly with hundreds, tens and ones, this equipment will be very helpful.

Algebra tiles


For many students, just the word algebra conjures up dread. However, when algebra is introduced in a visual way, students often express how much easier it is than they thought. The abstractness of algebra and the way it is taught, often holds students back whereas using equipment such as these algebra tiles provides a visual understanding of the basic algebra concepts, enabling students to gradually move from the concrete and visual to the abstract.  I use these tiles to help my students physically represent the equations, factorise and simplify by moving the tiles around.

Two colour counters

Double sided counters manipulative

Negative numbers is a concept that many students really struggle with. These coloured counters represent positive (yellow) and negative numbers (red). The counters really help students to add and subtract negative numbers and clearly illustrate the concept of zero pairs

Fraction tiles


Understanding fractions is one of the most important areas of maths as it underpins many other concepts. However, it is one of the concepts that many students struggle to understand. These fraction tiles provide children with many opportunities to explore fractions. They can compare the sizes of fractions, find fractions which are the same as well as add and subtract different fractions. 




Rekenrek is a fantastic manipulative for younger learners and students with dyscalculia. The rekenrek helps to develop number sense. The red and white beads help the student see a number in relation to both 5 and 10.