Buttons and bottle caps. Washers and screws. Old keys and rocks. What do these things have in common?

They—and anything else that’s small and collectible—are natural math manipulatives. You can use them to teach your child math. Simply search your house or yard for such “hidden treasures.”

Help your child find a container large enough to hold them. (This will give her practice in spatial problem solving.) Then you can have your child:

• Sort and classify the treasures. For instance, how many screws are short? How many are medium or long in length? How are other items alike and different?
• Use the treasures to practice adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. For example, ask, “If you divide your 16 buttons with a friend, how many will each of you have?”
• Organize the treasures by one characteristic and lay them end to end. Compare and contrast the different amounts of each type of treasure. For example, there are six short screws and three long ones. So there are three more short screws than long ones.
• Practice fractions. In the case above, one-third of the screws are long (three long screws out of nine screws total).