Children's Development

The Benefits of Playing with Manipulatives

The Benefits of Manipulatives

You may already know about how playing with blocks and doing open-ended art activities can positively impact a child’s development. But did you know that manipulatives also have many benefits for your children? Read on to learn more about manipulatives and their many advantages.


ECR4KIDS ManipulativesWhat are Manipulatives?

As the name implies, manipulatives are smaller-sized pieces that children can easily manipulate. Some are used in counting activities in classrooms, others are more similar to blocks. Each type offers opportunities for tactile and kinesthetic experiences. These types of experiences are the best kind for young children because they can utilize their body’s natural need to move.



The Benefits of ManipulativesECR4KIDS Manipulatives


The many benefits of manipulatives parallel blocks and building materials. Manipulatives often require grasping, twisting pieces together, and pulling pieces apart. For this reason, they aide in the development of hand-eye coordination and hand strength.


But the benefits don’t stop there. Manipulatives also encourage self-talk, discussion, and language development. In her article, “Old Fashion Play Builds Serious Skills”, Alix Spiegel, NPR Correspondent and Co-Host of the podcast Invisiblia, discussed the benefits of play and shared the work of executive function researcher Laura Berk. Berk explained that during play, children “talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.” Children who are allowed to work independently often engage in self-talk, which promotes self-regulation skills and can help gradually lengthen a child’s attention span.


Manipulatives also improve a child’s sense of spatial awareness. Through manipulative use and block building activities, children learn how things fit (or do not) together. Concurrently, manipulatives also promote problem solving skills.


Manipulatives encourage creativity. Unlike a kit with just enough pieces to make one thing and a set of complicated instructions, manipulatives are open-ended. There are countless ways to put things together. There are countless options for what something could be. A rocket. An ice cream cone. A skyscraper. The family dog. This allows a child’s imagination to run wild, and in a good way.


ECR4KIDS ManipulativesExperience with ECR4Kids’ Manipulatives

At the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (SDCDM), we believe in play. In fact, encouraging children to explore the world around them through hands-on experiences and play is at the core of our mission. SDCDM’s exhibits offer a wide range of block-building and manipulative-based opportunities for children to use.

Last month, we were fortunate to partner with ECR4Kids and test drive a few of its upcoming manipulatives. We set up stations with four different types of manipulatives and then sat back and watched. Not surprisingly, we saw evidence of all of the benefits above.


We observed young children between ages of two and four sitting for significant periods of time, exploring the manipulatives. They were testing and re-testing how things fit together, creating a wide variety of objects, and talking with their peers and caregivers about their work. A few younger children simply “explored” the materials with their mouths,which is completely developmentally-appropriate (don’t worry, we washed everything!). A handful of adults even got in on the action. We loved that. There are so many benefits to inter-generational play—but that’s another blog post.


At SDCDM, we are excited that ECR4Kids is expanding its line of manipulatives. We can’t wait to see what our guests create with them.

ECR4Kids will be launching its new line of manipulatives very soon. Check back then to get manipulatives to benefit your children’s development!


The Benefits of Manipulatives.

About the Author:

Laura Touhey

Laura Touhey is an Educator at the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (SDCDM) in Escondido, California. SDCDM is a hands-on, interactive space that encourages children to learn about their world through experimentation, exploration, and imagination. Laura has over ten years of experience teaching in preschool and elementary school classrooms. Her particular passion is for arts education. Laura earned a BA in History from The University of Michigan; she also holds a California multiple-subject teaching credential, a single-subject credential in Art, and a credential in Early Childhood Education from the American Montessori Society.