My Must Have Math Resources

20 Jan

Recently I was at a teacher shop with my sister, who is also a teacher, and discovered that I no longer feel the pull of fancy resources.  Rest assured, I checked my temperature and pulse and both seemed fine so I must have reached some point in my homeschooling development where my credit card is safer than it has been.

At Edsco there are so many shiny things I used to think my nest needed, but at the midpoint of our homeschooling journey (provided I ever let them graduate and leave the nest) I looked at the glittery bling and thought, “I will hardly use that, if at all.”  My husband would have been proud…and relieved.

However there are a few things I would repurchase if I had to start again from scratch, and since my reader Amanda asked, I’ll list them below for you.

Firstly I would buy some counters of some sort.  Not because we couldn’t find anything else in the house that could substitute but because they are used sooooo much in our house.  We’ve used them for counting, for adding, for sorting, for game counters, for weighing, and for patterning.  I’ve even written different things on them in pencil.  But their number one use has been in play.   Even now they are in regular use for some purpose.

We love our unifix blocks too.  They serve the same purpose as counters except that they have the added attribute of being able to connect.  If I could only have either the counters or the unifix blocks, I would have to choose the counters as they are used in play a lot more than the unifix blocks.

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Of course you don’t need to buy expensive counters.  I bought these poker chips for $2.50. And the boys tell me that the poker chips make a much cooler noise than the proper counters, which is apparently a desirable thing in play.  (And if you want to add gabbling to your curriculum you’ll have everything you need!  Hehehehe)

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Something I wish I had in the early days was an abacus.  I didn’t realise their value until my boys were older.  Instead of using counters to help with their adding (and subtracting) I would have used this abacus.  The visualisation of numbers is so much clearer.  When you make 7, you can easily see that it’s a 5 and 2 more.  Then if you add 5 on, you can see that you have 3 left on that row of ten and then have to use 2 more from the next row.  To see the answer you don’t need to count all of the beads, you can see that it’s a ten and two.  In your mind, twelve will always be a ten and a two.  Oh how I wish I knew this then.

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Our hundreds board has also been well used over the years.  It has plenty of uses and has been worth the money.  The board I have has two sides – a numbered side and a blank side.  It also came with the numbered and coloured tiles.  What I love the most about this board is that everything is quality plastic and the squares on the board are recessed so the tiles don’t shift around.  We’ve used our board for counting, place value, skip counting and addition and subtraction.  When my boys add numbers under one hundred they think of this board.  E.g.  23 + 45.  In their mind they locate 23.  They then add on the 5, moving across the board to 28 and then drop down four rows (which are tens) to their answer of 68.  We’ve also just used the tiles from this set.  I would buy this board again in a heartbeat.

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Our MAB Base 10 blocks were one of my very first purchases.  I wouldn’t want to teach place value and regrouping in algorithms without them.  They help you ‘see’ the larger numbers and how they act when added and subtracted.  I always start teaching addition and subtraction (particularly when it’s with regrouping) with MAB blocks.  Once they can solve the problems with blocks, they just fly through the problems on paper, because they can mentally see what is happening.

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Measurement items are a bit of a necessity.  Most textbooks will require you to go and measure.  But you don’t need anything expensive and most of the items you’ll already have in your home.  Something to weigh with and something with metres and centimetres on it.

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For early Geometry you really don’t ‘need’ anything.  You can always find 2D and 3D shapes in the environment (and those that you can’t, you can make).  However I would be sure to provide construction and spatial toys in the home, or, at the very least, lots of box construction.

However for later Geometry you will need a collection of protractors, set squares and compasses.

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Finally, I would repurchase my fraction resources – my fraction circles, squares and equivalent fraction set.  Sure you can make them, and I did make a set, but these are so much nicer and easier to use.  We have to remember that even older kids need to be able to visualise what they are learning before being required to mentally grapple with the task.

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So that’s what I’d repurchase if I had to start again.  I wouldn’t bother with the expensive occasional use items for Math.  They are sold for classrooms because school children are confined in a restricted environment where you won’t see a pantry full of 3D shapes, a fridge full of volume materials, or a purse full of coins that won’t be stolen.

I also wouldn’t bother with educational games.  Kids much prefer to learn efficiently and traditionally and then go and play real games.  Took me a long time and a cupboard full of this stuff to learn this though.  Luckily there are school teachers in my family who desperately need this stuff and are more than happy to take it off my hands…as my sister did on the weekend.

Now there is more space for books!!

Yes I think that shall be the moral of this story…Don’t waste your money on shiny classroom toys.  Get only what you need and spend the rest on books….lots of books!!!


Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Mathematics, Resources and Organising


10 responses to “My Must Have Math Resources

  1. Amanda

    January 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    This makes so much sense. Thank you! A nice simple list of useful stuff that won’t break the bank and which, as you say, leaves plenty of space for more books!

    • Tracey

      January 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      The only other item I umm and ahhed about was 3D shapes. They really are something that have to be seen at least but they are better handled. Not all of the shapes can be found in the pantry but you can print templates from the internet to make them. The problem with 3D shapes is that they are expensive to buy and really are only used once or twice. However if you found them in a smaller version that was more economically priced I’d probably add them. I bought mine at a clearance sale.

      Sharing with a friend is another idea. I have a trundle wheel that was a left over from my teaching days and lots of friends have borrowed it as it’s something that’s fun to use, but not necessary, and terribly expensive to buy.

      Glad the post was what you were looking for. Thanks for the idea. I’ve been having writer’s block and needed the motivation and inspiration. If you have any other questions please ask. Always happy to help if I can. 🙂

      • Joshua Greene

        June 22, 2015 at 9:27 am

        In addition to the materials you listed above, I would add playing cards and assorted dice (not just 6-sided cubes). There are so many great games with these tools, ranging from counting and number recognition to (disguised) arithmetic practice to difficult probability/combinatorics challenges. Also, you will have covered some of the 3d shapes without having to spend too much.

  2. Jen C

    January 21, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Where would I get resources like this?
    (I live in WA so everything is hard to find and Really pricey!)

  3. Tracey

    January 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I bought most of mine from a teacher supply store in my nearest capital city. The same store has online shopping… There are other teacher stores that you can access online, like Or you could even look at overseas places like They have math manipulative packs that might work out to be okay. And sometimes just a good toy/book store will stock bits and pieces. Of course, there are always printable options for many of these too. There are printable MAB blocks, printable hundreds boards…so there are always alternatives. And I didn’t buy all of mine at the same time. I built them up slowly over time.

  4. Julie

    January 21, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Tracey,
    Glad to see you back writing. Hope you’ve enjoyed your Christmas break. I would add dice. And a pack of cards. Totally cheap and can be used in many ways to revise concepts. I have a question for you. Do you see any dangers in the emphasis of critical thinking?


    • Tracey

      January 22, 2014 at 10:39 am

      Do I see any dangers in the emphasising of critical thinking skills? Yes and no. Critical thinking is a real buzzword in schools. To modern educators it is more ‘valuable’ to teach critical thinking skills than it is to fill the children with knowledge. Knowledge isn’t valued in the same way that ‘thinking’ is. So yes, I see this emphasis in early education as a danger and a detriment to education. However it’s not the critical thinking skills that are the problem. It’s that they are age-inappropriate for young children.

      Classical educators reject this modern notion. We believe that children first need to be filled with information. This is the grammar stage. Then, once that foundation has been built, children are ready to start processing what they have learned and critically thinking about it. We call this the dialectic or logic stage. The final stage is the rhetoric stage when the children should be able to share and use their learning.

      It’s a bit like baking a cake. First you gather the ingredients, then you combine and cook the ingredients, to finally remove a well baked cake from the oven to share. You can’t cook without ingredients and yet schools think they can teach critical thinking without first pouring the essential ingredients into their students. This could be why modern students finish school knowing so little compared to students from generations ago.

      So yes critical thinking is important, but used incorrectly is dangerous and tragic. Not only will critical thinking not occur, but knowledge acquisition will also be affected.

      • Julie

        January 22, 2014 at 11:03 pm

        Thanks for your response. I hadn’t thought of the knowledge before process side. My concerns are more along the side of it doesn’t seem to have a truth built into. That all opinions are acceptable because of individual right to an opinion. I have started my boys on the “fallacy detective” that you recommended and we love it. I have nephews in private schools and some of the ethics type arguments they come home with are quite alarming. (They are in high school) I believe their is an absolute truth in the bible and critical literacy kind of tries to blur those lines. I’m still processing all of this so there is lots I haven’t considered yet. Will keep researching and work it out. Thanks for your input.

        Hope you have an awesome day.

  5. Tracey

    January 22, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Well if you first taught Truth in the grammar stages – showed them Truth, Beauty and Goodness – when you came to the Logic/critical thinking stage, your goal would be for your child to seek and critique whether a book/person/event/theory/etc, based on their already built foundation, contained Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

    The modern view of critical literacy isn’t really about teaching kids to think for themselves. Schools still place their view of truth, within the activity. If children had a task where they had to determine whether alternate lifestyles are equally as valuable as traditional lifestyles, I can guarantee the child who said they were not equal would be persuaded to ‘think’ otherwise. (It seems that not all views are acceptable in our world, although that’s what they are trying to get us to think.) Perhaps modern critical thinking in education is a guise for indoctrinating with their modern version of ‘truth’.

    So the fault doesn’t lie with critical thinking but how it is used. It’s vital for our Christian children to be able to think critically in this world that aims to divert their thinking, under the direction of the deceiver. 🙂

    • Julie

      January 27, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Thanks for your response.


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