Helping children develop their fine motor skills and increasing children's understanding of basic math concepts are both important goals in early care and education environments. Incorporating a math and manipulatives learning center in your preschool classroom will help you meet those goals while giving children the opportunity to improve their coordination, learn about counting and sorting, and expand their problem-solving skills. These hands-on learning opportunities will help children in their everyday lives and will prepare them to learn more advanced mathematical concepts in their future education.
Setting up your math and manipulatives learning center and choosing the right materials for it can be a frustrating process, especially if your classroom is lacking in space. How you design your math and manipulatives center and your overall classroom layout is ultimately up to you, but here a few steps that can help make the process easier while also making the most of your space:
1. Decide on the Size and Location of Your Math & Manipulatives Center
The size and location of your math and manipulatives center will be determined by the following factors:
- The size of your classroom.
- The total number of learning centers you want to incorporate.
- The number of children in your class.
- The number of children you want to use the center at one time.
Most learning centers have enough space to accommodate 3-4 children at a time, but accommodations for two children will work if you have limited space.
Depending on the type of activity and the number of children at the center, your math and manipulatives center will vary in noise level. Try to locate your center adjacent to other centers that have fluctuating noise levels, such as the technology center or the art center. If you need a little extra help in planning your classroom space, How to Plan a Great Classroom Layout (Preschool Edition) and our MyKaplan FloorPlanner tool are both great resources you can utilize.
2. Select Furniture that Provides a Comfortable Workspace for Children
Your math and manipulatives learning center should have tables and chairs for students to use as a work area. Children may want to play with manipulatives while sitting on the floor, so a carpet or rug is also a great addition to this area of the classroom. Puzzle racks, storage units, a flannelboard, a bulletin board room divider, and a dry erase board are other furniture items that can help make your math and manipulatives learning center more comfortable for children.
3. Keep Materials Organized with Storage Containers
The materials you use in your math and manipulatives center will likely consist of numerous pieces that are easy to lose and hard to keep together. Storage containers are an easy way to keep counters, play money, pattern blocks, and other small items organized. Clearly label what should be in each storage container and explain to the children in your care that you expect them to put everything back in its proper place when they are done playing at the center.
4. Facilitate Learning with a Variety of Math Materials & Manipulatives
Your math and manipulatives center should feature a variety of math materials and manipulatives for children to use as they learn to problem solve and understand basic math concepts. Puzzles, pegboards, table toys, and other manipulatives should be easily accessible to help children strengthen their motor skills and improve their hand-eye coordination. Here is a list of suggested topics and corresponding math materials and manipulatives you can include in your math and manipulatives center:
Suggested Math Materials and Manipulatives
Counting and Numeracy - Children can learn about numbers and master counting by playing with counting aids in your math and manipulatives center. Counters, sorting trays, counting toys, dice, abacuses, number boards, and number games are all great math materials to include in your center.
Manipulatives and Kits - Manipulative sets, pegboards, puzzles, lacing beads, and other manipulative items can help children learn to problem solve, develop their fine motor skills, and design creative structures. Be sure to include a variety of manipulatives in your math and manipulatives center and to store them in labeled containers.
Measurement - Children will consistently have to use their measuring skills as they grow older, which is why it's important to include measurement materials in your math and manipulatives center. Help children develop their measuring skills with measuring tapes, rulers, balances, and books about size and weight.
Money - Counting money is another skill children need to learn in order to help them budget their income and make purchases when they are older. A cash register, realistic coins and paper money, money-related games, and informative books are all great ways children can learn about money.
Numbers and Operations - Supplement math lessons with a variety of math-related activities in your math and manipulatives center. Children can increase their knowledge about numbers and basic math operations by playing with flash cards, math puzzles, and fun math games.
Problem Solving - You can help children learn to problem solve by providing practical aids in your math and manipulatives center. Provide a variety of lacing and tracing sets, mosaics, puzzles, sequencing sets, and dressing boards for kids to enjoy.
Sorting and Patterning - Children can learn how to recognize patterns and sort items based on a variety of characteristics with colorful aids. Make sure your math and manipulatives learning center has a variety of sorting sets, counters, stacking activities, and other sorting items for children to use.
Time and Calendars - Another focus of your math and manipulatives center should be helping children learn about calendars and how to tell time. Oversized clocks, pocket calendars, magnetic calendars, and other fun time-telling activities are all important additions to your learning center.
LEGO®/DUPLO® and Magna-Tiles® are also considered manipulatives since they connect. They would work well in the math and manipulatives learning center or as a supplement to enhance the block center.
Taking the time to properly set up your math and manipulatives center will help you create a fun and effective space for children to have fun learning about math. Be sure to visit our Math section for more math materials and manipulatives you can add to your learning center.