All teachers know that the younger the students are, the more manipulatives you will need to use. Small children learn by hands on activities. You cannot just open up to a page in any book and expect them to know something without some kind of introduction first. That really goes for any grade that you teach, but especially with early childhood. They need to see it in front of them before they can see it on paper. Also, hands on activities make the lesson much more interesting.
This is especially true with almost any subject, but I feel like I need to use a lot of manipulatives in Math. Manipulatives can really be anything that is available in the classroom for use. Some teachers may use popsicles sticks while others may use blocks. It really does not matter what you use as long as you are getting the concept across to your students.
Just this week, I did a lesson with my students on the top, middle and bottom positions. I could have just gotten them on the correct page and ask them to circle objects on the top, middle and bottom. It is very likely that most of the class probably would have known this already, but what about the few that do not? That is where manipulatives come in. Before turning to the page in their Math workbook, I used colored blocks to demonstrate. For example, I took a blue, red, and green block. I asked them which color was on the top, bottom, and middle. Then I had a box on each table of different blocks. I told them to get three colors out of the box and which color to put on the top, middle, and bottom. They had a lot of fun doing this, plus they were learning in the mean time. Then after doing this for a while, we went to the Math workbook page and circled the items in the different positions. The work page should be used as practice after the lesson has been taught.
We also did the in and out concept. This is a simple principle, but I always like to start off with a hands on activity. I put containers on the table with things in them. I told them to take out different things from the box, then to put it back in. Even if they know what it means, they love playing with different materials. Then, I had them draw items
in and out of a basket on their workbook page.
When we did the concept of before and after, I had the entire class line up and tell which person was in front of them and who was behind them. Then I had three students line up in front and I asked who was in the middle. Reviewing concepts from previous days is important.
Lastly, the class was learning about the right and left positions. This is not easy. I reminded them that every morning we put our right hand on our heart to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we had a blast doing the Hokey Pokey where you have to put your right arm, foot, etc, in and out. This was the highlight of the day.
Learning needs to be fun, interesting and enjoyable. There is no right or wrong activity that you can do as a teacher. As long as the students are understanding, that is the important thing.