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Our Favorite Engineering and Math Manipulatives for Kids

Since E is a kinesthetic learner (meaning he learns by doing rather than by hearing or seeing), it was important to me to find him some great hands-on tools for our homeschool this year. He loves STEM concepts, especially math and engineering, so we picked out some engineering and math manipulatives for him to play with as he learns.
We are homeschooling this year and focus a lot of math and engineering, so I am happy to partner with Oriental Trading Company to share our favorite tools with you.
This child has a brilliant mind and I want to encourage him to pursue his passion for math and engineering. I definitely see him joining an engineering field when he’s older.


We share our favorite engineering and math manipulatives for our 1st grade homeschool and explain some ways we use them. Homeschool | Grade School | Education | Math | Engineering | Learning Tools | Math Manipulatives | Teaching | Oriental Trading CompanyGreat for Pinning Image Pin It Button


We have been working on math concepts and encouraging his engineering interests for quite some time now, and E is doing great, but we have not had any really great manipulatives for him to use. Since this is our first “official” year homeschooling (we basically “unschooled” for K-5 as it is not required in our state), we knew we would need to be prepared so he can keep up with his curriculum. We found some amazing math manipulatives and some fun engineering toys from Oriental Trading Company and they have already been such a help, so I wanted to share our favorite tools with you.


Math Cubes


Once we decided for sure we would homeschool, I knew I just had to get some math cubes. My childhood is a blur to me, pretty much, but one thing I remember is using math cubes and how helpful they were to me. We also watch LeapFrog videos to supplement and they remind me of the “Quidgets” so my son can better visualize what he is learning.


Oriental Trading Math Cubes


Count by fives, tens, or twos, it’s up to you. He loves connecting the cubes and I have used this to easily explain simple addition and multiplication concepts (along with subtraction and division, grouping, graphs, and more). Not only do the math cubes help for counting, they also offer him something to keep his hands preoccupied which helps him to catch on to things better.


Oriental Trading Counting Block by Five


Pattern Blocks


This is something else I remember using as a kid and there are multiple ways to use these. The pack we received from Oriental Trading Company is a good size and the container is perfect for storage.


Oriental Trading Pattern Blocks


You can line them up and ask your children to complete the pattern (for instance, look at the picture above and tell me what color and shape comes next) or sort into shapes or colors. You can even use these to create designs (like tangrams–you can make your own designs or find free printables online.). E has been very inspired by my honey bee obsession (we’ve used my Honey Bee Hive Mandala and Honey Bee Fairy coloring pages to work on his fine motor skills), so he made a honey bee, a hive, and a “honey bee egg.”


Oriental Trading Pattern Blocks Designs


Play Money


As someone who has run a coupon blog in the past and tries to be fairly wise with money, I wanted to make sure my son gets the same foundation and a good understanding of money responsibility at a young age. Since a typical 1st grade concept is identifying money and amounts, we picked out some play money.


Oriental Trading Play Money


The play money designs look very realistic, which my son loves. It comes with a large amount (as it is meant for a large classroom), but I actually love that. We can use the extras as party favors as they are individually packaged, count very high numbers, use some for arts and crafts, hand them out to the kids as “payment” for chores that they can save up and “spend” on certain special prizes we pick out…not to mention my toddler gets a hold of them and we are bound to lose some or have some ripped, so we will be covered.




In 1st grade math we will be discussing time in more detail. We will read a clock, which we have been working on for a while, and I will be explaining the concept of time–more time, less time, half of a minute, etc.. These timers have different amounts of sand inside of them for different amounts of minutes (half a minute, a minute, a minute-and-a-half, two minutes) so E was able to see how much time was more and how much time was less.


Oriental Trading Timers


This also transfers over into understanding number sequence, even with decimals. He loved watching which ran out of sand first and figuring out which should be next and why. We can also use these to time different activities (two minutes to brush teeth, one minute break and count to 60 if we are having a frustrating moment, a thirty seconds doodle challenge to warm up for writing…).




E has been very into telling me when things are heavier and lighter. I am sure it is because they used a scale in AWANA to see who had the most coins. He really wanted a scale and there is so much to teach with this, that we decided to get one of those.


Oriental Trading Scale


We can use this to teach heavier and lighter, how to make things even, how a larger number of something means there will be more weight than a smaller amount of the same thing, and we have even used this with the timers I mentioned above to see how the bigger numbers have more sand (which means it takes more time) than the lower numbers. This is just another way we try to overlap math concepts we are learning, so we can apply it to all types of different life lessons. I may also try to come up with a Bible lesson using the scale.


Number Chart


We love the All About Numbers chart from Oriental Trading Company. We all know the biggest part of math is knowing all about our numbers. This chart is a very convenient visual where the child is able to interact and match the number to its written word (sight words, yay!), to the number of tally marks so they can see how tally marks work, to the number of dots so it is more visual, and even shows which numbers come before and after (which number is smaller and which one is bigger.).


Oriental Trading All About Numbers


We will have a number of the day or number of the week so we can be sure we really have our numbers down. You can even add more later by using some cardstock and cutting them to the proper sizes.


Foam Number Dice


To really get down the math concept of numbers and the different ways they are written, we chose these fun foam number dice. These are a great visual and can be used for fun games. My toddler is also interested in them–we show him the different numbers and he listens as we explain to his big brother, and he likes to stack them up which is good for his motor skills.


Oriental Trading Foam Number Block


Jumbo Pipe Connectors


These pipes are a lot of fun for a calming break in between lessons and they take some creative and critical thinking. E loves engineering, so these entertain him for hours at a time. He even thinks through having the tubes connecting below the base board and letting me know where that tube came out on the other side. I will definitely need to get him working on circuit boards.


Oriental Trading Tubes


Wheel Shaped Building Set


This kit is so much fun because your child can build and create things that roll and move. Again, these are great engineering education tools, even for 1st grade students. They open up creativity and critical thinking and can go even further beyond that. E never ceases to amaze me with the things he creates. He has already made multiple cars that roll, both with three and four wheels.


Oriental Trading Tinker

He builds robots that are put together in such a way that they actually will walk a few steps on their own! I found this out as I tried to move them over and they kept on moving. He created pieces with a swinging pendulum in the center. Engineer-minded children will love these.


We also love these, which we did not pick out as we already had some:

  • Tape measures
  • Learning clock
  • Measuring cups
  • Flash cards
  • Building blocks
  • Marble run
  • Standard unit building bricks


Oriental Trading Math Manipulatives Square


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Read also: Learning With Mini Mailboxes | Reading and Math and 10 Exciting and Educational Playdough Activities

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  1. What great ideas! These are wonderful products from the Trading Company to use to help learn. I dint know they had all this kind of stuff.

  2. WoW! This a complete list of Math learning tools to help my kids with keeping up with their math skill.s Oriental Trading Company has so many wonderful things to help with learning. I did not know that. I am checking out some of these items for my kids.

  3. I am a retired elementary teacher & have used Math manipulatives with my kiddos. It is amazing to see how quickly they pick up the concepts.

  4. These are fun ideas!

  5. Pingback: Set Up Your Own Educational Cars-Themed Activity Table for Kids

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