Manipulatives are an important tool for educators, especially in the context of the K-6 classroom. Kinesthetic learning can be engaged for better understanding of concepts across math, science, reading and more. This post explores the concept of manipulatives in K-6 education, and offers helpful tips for teachers and administrators trying to incorporate kinesthetic learning into the classroom.

What is a Manipulative in the Context of K-6 Education?

Instructor Mary Firestone offers a great definition of a manipulative in the context of K-6 education. “Manipulatives are teaching tools that engage students visually and physically with objects such as coins, blocks, puzzles, or markers. Manipulatives aid in an active learning environment where students are encouraged to engage in discovery and exploration of these objects.”

Are Manipulatives Only for Math?

Although using manipulatives in math lessons may seem them obvious choice, they can and should be used in all subjects, especially for those learners that need a variation from the traditional auditory way of learning. Kinesthetic learning can be employed to better engage all students.

For example, to teach preschoolers letter recognition and sound awareness, a teacher could cut out a large letter “F” for each student and then provide objects that start with that letter, like feathers, and have the students glue the feathers on the “F”. This activity would give tactile learners and learners with shorter attention spans, like preschoolers, a different, more meaningful way of constructing letter awareness.

For elementary students learning sentence structure and endings, end marks like period, exclamation point, and question mark can be made on magnetic materials. A teacher would write a sentence on the board and the students would take turns coming up to the board choosing the right magnet to place at the end of the sentence. This is a good activity for those kinesthetic learners that need a chance to get out of their seats and move around.

Magnets, word walls, sentence strips, interactive graphic organizers and many other manipulatives can be used creatively across many subjects.

Kinesthetic Learning is Important

According to education professor Dr. Jean Shaw, “Manipulatives are effective for the following reasons: they are multisensory, they represent ideas in more than one way, they promote communication among students, and they increase confidence, leading to [less] confusion and deepened understanding.”

Sitting in one place with focus on a teacher’s lecture is quite difficult, especially for younger students. Kinesthetic learning allows these students to engage their natural childlike energy, and internalize concepts more deeply.

What Kinds of Learning Do Manipulatives Promote?

Manipulatives can promote learning for students that fall into any of the three main types of learning styles, especially the visual and kinesthetic learners. They also can be helpful to English Language Learners as well. When learning the English language, it is very helpful for students to be able to use manipulatives like pictures and actual objects of the words. For example, if a student does not know the English word for “shoe,” it would be helpful for the teacher to provide pictures of shoes and/or bring in actual shoes to help construct their understanding. Visual and kinesthetic (tactile) learners benefit from using manipulatives, especially in math.

How Teachers Can Make Their Own Manipulatives

There are great ideas on how to make homemade manipulatives on the web and especially on Pinterest. You can use popsicle sticks, cardboard pieces, paper, cardstock, construction paper, magnets, clothespins, sponges and many other household items to make your own manipulatives.

Here’s an example of a great homemade manipulative, Counting Sticks.


Budgeting for Manipulatives

School funding differs from state to state, and school to school. If a school receives funding for LEP/ELD students, then money might be used to fund manipulatives and other supplies to support learning. PTA groups can choose to help, or educators can use money from the school’s general budget to create kinesthetic learning tools, if available. There are crowdfunding platforms out there like Donors Choose that allow teachers to post their classroom needs, and the general public can choose any amount to donate.

How Spinitar Can help Teachers Create Their Own Kinesthetic Learning Tools

In collaboration with the VariQuest Visual Learning Tools, Spinitar offers a wide range of technology to help teachers create manipulatives for K-6 classrooms. The Perfecta 2400 and Perfecta 3600 are two wide format color poster makers that allow users to create personalized graphic organizers, recognition posters for achievement and birthdays, calendars, and word walls to help create a visually stimulating environment.

The Cutout Maker 1800 is a revolutionary, digital, die-cut system that helps bring lessons to life! This machine saves time by automatically cutting out thousands of desired letters, numbers, manipulatives and shapes in minutes. No more cutting by hand!

The Trifecta ™ 800 and STEM:IT lesson plans conveniently fuse STEM and 3D printing into a school’s curriculum with content that is aligned with state and national standards.

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