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Manipulatives are physical objects that are used as teaching tools to engage children in hands-on learning. This blog article discusses the importance of using manipulatives when reading and shares hands-on reading activities parents can do with their children today.

History & Research

From as early as 1837, Frederick Froebel – a German educator – created the very first Kindergarten program that included the use of many physical items to help his children learn about math concepts. Since then, the use of manipulatives (beans, rice, blocks, shapes, models, etc.) has been recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in teaching mathematical concepts at all grade levels.

The research behind the use of manipulatives to increase the level of learning is undeniable. The theory behind this type of educational technique revolves around the idea that learning is enhanced when students acquire knowledge through active processes that engage them (Hartshorn and Boren, 1990). Adding physical interaction to lessons that are typically sedentary, directs children to move through various stages of learning (from concrete to abstract learning).

Application to Reading

So why don't we apply this same technique when we are teaching our children to become stronger readers? We are all well aware that many learners have shorter attention spans today as a result of technology that provides them with instant answers. Thus, more children are becoming disinterested during long stretches of quiet, inactive periods that require focus (such as during reading time). Let's involve them more in the learning process by having them use manipulatives when they read.

Try using the everyday objects (manipulatives) referenced below when reading with your children or when doing a reading response activity. You will be pleasantly surprised by their increased attention to the task and the enhancement of their level of understanding.

Reading Activities with Manipulatives

Clothespin Reading – Tag story elements such as characters, setting, problem/solution, and vocabulary with clothespins.

Window Words – Practice spelling and vocabulary words daily by writing them with washable markers on a window in your home.

Comprehension Jar – Fill a jar with comprehension questions that your child will pick and answer as you read together.

Rubber Band ABC Reading – Identify special letters or words and circle with a rubber band.

Do-It-Yourself Language Arts Practice – Write simple language or grammar teaching points for children to identify in their reading material.

Reading Fort – Create a fort and fill it with books and snacks for reading time.


Hartshorn, R. and Boren, S. (1990). Experiential Learning of Mathematics: Using Manipulatives. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small School.

Heddens, J. W. (1986). Bridging the Gap Between the Concrete and the Abstract. The Arithmetic Teacher, 33: 14-17.


Diane DiMemmo is a former elementary teacher and current tutor for struggling readers. She developed many hands-on reading games for her active classroom learners that worked equally well during home tutoring sessions. The parents of her students noticed the positive results so they began using the same strategies at home with their other children. At their request, Diane compiled all of her reading games and routines into a book titled THE READING HOUSE, which is now available on Amazon at For more information, visit


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