Inexpensive Math Manipulatives

by Dena Wood

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Inexpensive Educational Resources

Boy, isn't it fun to look at all those great manipulatives to go with your new math program? Nice until you look at the price, that is. Talk about sticker shock!

With a little creativity, you can save yourself nearly all of the $50 to $65 required to buy that new manipulative set. Following are some of our common substitutions:

  • We use the small, square Legos in place of linking cubes.
  • Hundreds charts can be printed for free off the Internet. Just do a search for "printable hundreds chart" and laminate with contact paper.
  • Why buy play money? Use the bills from your Monopoly set and real change.
  • A simple Geoboard can be made from a square piece of wood and 25 finishing nails. Draw a grid of five evenly spaced vertical and horizontal rows and place nails on the intersections. This is a great homeschool project in its own right!
  • Color tiles can also be replaced with square Legos. Another alternative is to laminate sheets of construction paper and cut into squares with a paper cutter.
  • Mini clocks can easily be made with a circle, two hands, and a brass fastener in the center. Laminate with clear contact paper. Better yet, use a "real" clock.
  • Counting bears can be replaced with many things. We've used poker chips, checkers, Legos (again!), beans, whatever is handy.
  • For stringing beads, purchase macrame-type beads from your local craft store and string on a shoelace or use pasta strung on yarn. Use a computer or just color your own patterns for your children to copy.

If you're heart is set on owning these cool manipulatives rather than "making do," I highly suggest checking out your local Wal-Mart and Dollar Store. Wal-Mart consistently carries nearly all of these manipulatives for only a few dollars each. Buy your own Rubbermaid tote to keep them in and you've purchased a $60 set for about $20. Better yet, make frequent stops to your Dollar Store. Though it can't be counted on, just yesterday I picked up a package of Linking Shapes and Stringing Bears for $1 each. Did we need them? No, but for that price, they're fun to have. And don't forget yard sales! Dominos and poker chips can regularly be had for a mere 25 cents. Happy Learning!

Dena Wood is a homeschooling Mom of five and co-owner of, a site committed to encouraging creative, innovative and fun learning

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