For many children, learning new math skills is a lot like that. Teachers use manipulatives to help children find their way. These are simple objects like bottle caps or colored blocks. Children use them to count or solve math problems.

Here’s why teachers use them:

• They make abstract ideas concrete. When children can actually do math with visual and hands-on aids, it makes sense to them.
• They are useful tools for solving problems. Engineers build models to help them solve problems. The same thing works to help kids solve problems.

It’s easy to use these learning tools at home. Collect small objects to use for solving math problems. You can use poker chips. The white chips are 1s, red chips are 10s, blue chips are 100s. Or you can collect plastic tops from milk gallons, again using different colors for different values.

Have your child show you how to solve a problem. Suppose she has to add 24 and 13. To represent 24, have her use two red chips and four white chips. To represent 13, she can use one red chip and three white chips. How many chips is that in all? Three red chips and seven white chips, or 37.

The chips make it easier to learn about place value. When your child gets 10 white chips, she can “cash them in” for a red chip.