I turn to my current math student. I am feeling a little more than frustrated. We are solving problems I know they know how to solve. Yet every time I give the new problem,

“What’s 4+5?”

I receive, at best, a blank stare. I’m about ready to beat my head against the wall, it would be less painful. Ever been there?

If you have than you, like me, are making a very common teacher mistake.

You see, math is real. Like, you can touch it and count it and prove it. No really. It is. If it isn’t real to you, then your teacher also made this mistake.

The mistake: going too quickly into the abstract.

The cure? Start with Hands-on manipulatives and wait until your child drops it on their own.

Hands on is all about making an abstract concept concrete and adding as many senses as you can. One of the easiest mistakes to fall into when teaching math is to go too quickly into the abstract. But creating hand-on activities can be pretty challenging. This post outlines several ways to add to a math lesson using hearing, touch and movement.

Just to make sure we are talking about the same thing: counting pennies is concrete and the question “4+5=?” is abstract.

# Adding Hearing to Math Instruction

We use our ears everyday for every lesson. But there are some activities that make use of our ears in a very useful way.

## Songs and Chants

Songs and chants are particularly helpful when you are wanting to memorize something. Anytime I want to know 8 X 8 I hear a little voice chant “8 times 8 fell on the floor, picked it up with 64”.

While this is helpful, I don’t know a lot of rhymes and songs for math related facts. I could look it up on youtube, but before I do that, I try just chanting the fact with my students.

When we were learning about perimeter and area, we would say “perimeter is the distance around” about 5 times. Once you practice it enough, it sounds like a chant. And when I would ask them to find the perimeter, they were able to recall what that meant.

I would only reserve this tool for the definitions and facts you really, really want memorized.

# Adding Touch to Math Instruction

If your student is stuck on a concept, ask yourself if there is something you can add to the lesson that they could move. Also known as, manipulatives.

## Manipulatives for Operations

Anything you can count would work. There are adorable manipulatives that you can buy (have you seen the little bears?) but anything you have in number will work. We often use Lego because we have so many of them. For an extra interest, you can add edible manipulatives (candy, peas, crackers…).

I would highly recommend having some sort of Base Ten Rods since learning the base ten system is really important for understanding all other operations (addition, subtraction…etc.).

Related: 100 Activities, Games, and Lessons to Teach Place Value to the Elementary Student

## Manipulatives for Fractions

Again, you can buy fraction pieces but anything you can split into pieces and put back together again would work. Lego work wonderfully here too.

## Manipulatives for Geometry

You probably already have lots of tools for teaching geometry. Blocks, shapes, or Lego (there’s that Lego again!) are useful things to have. Geoboards are also useful. Most of what we used were Lego (of course) and graph paper, because drawing is also hands on.

To see how I used manipulatives, download my free multi-sensory unit on Area and Perimeter.

# Adding Movement to Math Instruction

I will be completely honest, I did not add movement when I was teaching in a classroom. Now that I have a little boy, I am realizing how important movement might be for some students to be interested in learning and be able to learn.

If you have an exercise ball or exercise bike, you can have your student use those while they are listening to the lesson. These really cool balance cushion means less distraction for you.

After a lesson, students can run through an obstacle course stopping at parts to solve a problem before moving on.

You could also have action cards students draw after solving a problem. The action cards could be things like 5 jumping jacks, 1 min of running in place, 8 crunches…etc.

# Summary

Adding a hands-on element to your math instruction doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive and the benefits far outnumber the costs. And it’s so much more effective than banging your head into the wall.

How have you added hands-on to your math?

Other related posts:

100 Activities, Games, and Lessons to Teach Place Value to the Elementary Student

Multi-sensory, multi-age unit on Area and Perimeter

3 Types of Questions to Ask After a Math Lesson for Homeschoolers

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