#mathathome, Back to School Math Ideas, Elementary Math, Guided Math, Math, Math Games, Math Instruction

Manipulatives in the fall… How in the world do we do this?!?

I am right there with you.

How in the world are we supposed to have our students use hands-on manipulatives in our classrooms with who knows what guidelines will be in place?


How do we have students explore in mathematics when we cannot let them share manipulatives?

How do we sanitize these manipulatives?

If each kid gets their own, how do we store them?

Do we let our students take home math tool-kits? If I do, will I ever get my stuff back?

What other options do I have?

Shew! These were just the initial questions that came to me this spring. Kristin has to reign me back in when I get in a tailspin with all the “What if…” scenarios. As a teacher in the trenches with you, I get your stress. I understand your worry. I feel your sadness when you know what your students need and you want to teach with concrete materials, but you’re afraid you just can’t make it work virtually or with students not in groups. Your heart starts to race if you think too long about how we can keep up the good instruction with restrictions in place.

Deep breath friends… deep breath.

Through many conversations, Kristin and I have decided that student math tool-kits are the best options. Some tools in the toolkit will stay in there all school year. Some tools will come and go depending on what we are studying.

 For storage purposes, I have chosen to purchase plastic tubs for each student and placed their student numbers on them. You could also use gallon size baggies  or pencil boxes for each student. Each set of items are placed in their own snack size plastic baggies.


The hard plastic items will be in a mesh bag that can be thrown in the dishwasher  or a water/vinegar bath to disinfect.

Some teachers do plan on sending home the individual tool-kits if they have to switch to e-learning. This is a risk, but these teachers know their students and feel these materials at home are a must.  However, I do not plan on sending mine home. I have virtual manipulatives I plan on utilizing if that happens. We’ll discuss this in a future post! Just keep in mind, you have to do what is right for you and your students. 

In the following pictures you can see how various math tool-kits have been put together by our local colleagues and some of you who have been kind enough to share. If you’ve built yours already, please send us a picture of your work! We’d love to share them with fellow teachers!

The next question we usually get is…What do I put into my math tool-kit? We’ve put together some ideas on the lists below to help you get started. If you’ve already built yours, GREAT! You may see something on this list you want to add. Keep in mind though…. start small and build your students’ tool-kits as the year progresses. 

Math Tool-Kit ListsMath Tool-Kit Lists (1)Math Tool-Kit Lists (2)Math Tool-Kit Lists (3)

If you need materials for your kits, our go-to companies for resources are Box Cars & One Eyed Jacks  and EAI Education. Check out this post from Jane Felling showing you how Box Cars will work with you to create customized tool-kits for your students! Keep in mind, the mesh bags are dishwasher safe for sanitation.

In addition to math materials, you also need something to store everything. We did some shopping to give you options:

Sterilite Snap Top 6 quart Containers:
  • Target… $0.97/each
  • Home Depot… $3.98 for 4
Sterilite Latch Sides 6 quart Containers:
  • Amazon … $39.91 for 12 

Kristin and I wish all of you the best as you begin this school year. If we can help in any way, you know how to reach us. Remember to keep breathing, stay calm, and when you see those smiling faces on the first day, it will all be worth it!


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