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Affordable Fall Math Manipulatives to Motivate Your Students

By Shari Edwards on October 16, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

I don’t know about you, but when I walk by the dollar area of some department stores, I just HAVE to stop. My imagination starts to roll, and before long, I am lost in my thoughts and busy planning new activities for my students. In September, I found small, plastic shapes sold as table scatter, fall-themed paper cups and cupcake liners, pumpkin and bat erasers, and other assorted items. I paid less than twenty dollars for these fun, highly motivating objects to dress up my math tubs and lesson plans for September, October, and November. Now, to put these little treasures to work for me!


A Few Uses for My New Math Manipulatives


Markers for Math Bump Games

math bump gameclose up of pumpkin and leaf used as markers for math gamemath bump game

The table scatters are the perfect size for bump games. Let students play in pairs. Package ten each of two different styles of table scatter in a snack bag to use as markers. Include dice so supplies are ready for game time. Many teacher-created bump games can be found by searching the Internet.

____ Groups of ____

grouping objects into equal groups

I used acorn table scatter and short party cups for this activity. Students roll one of the dice to determine how many cups to set out and then roll one again for the number of acorns to put in each cup. A partner can check and then take a turn, or the cups of acorns can be recorded as "___ groups of ___" on paper. In the picture above, for instance, they would record "three groups of two."

Conservation of Numbers and Missing Addends

plastic spidersplastic spiders

Divide students into partners. Give each pair cupcake liners and twelve spiders. Partner One chooses one to twelve spiders and hides some of them under the cupcake liner while Partner Two keeps eyes closed. When everything is ready, Partner Two looks at the spiders as Partner One says "I have ___ spiders. How many are hiding?" Partner Two gives an answer and then checks to see if it is correct by lifting the liner off of the hidden spiders. Partners then switch tasks and start again.

A Fraction of a Group

acorns in cornucopia

Partner One puts some number of multi-colored acorns in the mini cornucopia and records that number and the number of one or two of the colors on a dry erase board. Partner One then hands the cornucopia to Partner Two. Partner Two empties the cornucopia and counts the total number of acorns inside. Partner One names a color, and Partner Two writes the fraction of that color on a dry erase board. Partners switch roles.

Act Out a Fall Math Story

Sixteen Runawa Pumpkins book with plastic pumpkins

Allow students to act out a math story such as Sixteen Runaway Pumpkins by Dianne Ochiltree using little pumpkins. Number sense may be lacking in some students' mathematical thinking, and this is a great activity to use for more practice.

Counters and a Few More Thoughts

assorted table scatterpumpkin mini erasers

The table scatter and small erasers make great counters or graphing objects. Allow students to use some scatter to work out math facts and problems. Give a student a mixture of table scatter to graph on paper according to type. Let students create patterns. Use erasers on a pictograph.

Can you think of other uses?

Comments (8)

This is so ironic!!! I few weeks ago I bought the very same table scatter to use as Math manipulatives for addition and subtraction games. Great minds think alike!!!

The kids love it, don't they? I think teachers are really good at looking at
something and thinking of uses for our students.
Thanks for the comment!

Great idea,very creative ,fun and engaging!

Thank you very much!

I love these ideas...now I am off to the 99 Cent Store to take a look! Any clever ideas for storage of things like this? You really seem to hit the right note in all of your entries here--delivering what teachers want to know. Thank you!

Thank you very much! During the season, I keep them in plastic containers and off season, they go into gallon bags and fit in a larger tub. It's worth the storage space it takes to give them a change of manipulatives once in a while just for the engagement factor!

Now you're on to my tricks! These supplies will go into bags for easy storage and others will fill my tubs. Thanks for the comment.

What fun ways to use seasonal items. You are right, you can get a ton of little manipulatives for next to nothing! It keeps what would seem like monotonous (but necessary) practice and repetition a fresh, new look and feel. I'll bet the same activities will be exciting again with snowmen, mittens and candy canes.

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