Creative, Hands-On Learning with Manipulatives

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This post is sponsored by Intooba, a company that you may not have heard of, but you should definitely check out… like now. Or if not now, as soon as you finish reading this post. 


Doodle is my middle son. He’s 8 and has a recent autism diagnosis. I mean, I always knew he was different and learned differently, but now we have a label for it. Autism. It’s a post for a different day, but it’s been the most amazing blessing to be able to look at him and my home and my parenting and say to myself, you know what? This is Autism.


He’s always been the most incredible kid. Learning started as a struggle for him, and for me as his teacher. It took time for me to figure out that he learns with his whole body. He learns with his hands. He learns by fiddling, and doing, and creating. Teaching with manipulatives has become so much more than just a preference in our home- it’s become a necessity.

You can imagine how excited I was when Intooba reached out to us- they sent me a whole box of manipulatives, and they have become an instant favorite in our home. Before I dig into the meat of the lesson I want to share with you today, I want to explain just what these are. Intooba manipulatives are BIG. Gloriously big. Doodle struggles with motor skills, and big rods and connectors make it so much easier for him to participate.


Our Intooba set came with a curriculum pack with tons of wonderful ideas for grades K-6 to use the manipulatives across our curriculum. For this particular lesson, we used a plan for the third grade. Doodle has been learning a lot about money lately- mostly how to earn it, and how to spend it on the things he “really, really, really NEEDS” (i.e. Pokemon cards, and Leg0s).

To start the lesson, I pulled out the big box of Intooba pieces and dumped them out for all the kids. I let them have some free play time to get out their wiggles and explore the pieces and how they fit together. I wanted them to have a chance to see what their options were for connecting them together.


It’s not all that often that all four kids become engrossed in an activity, but all the kids loved playing with their Intooba set. After a while, we began the formal lesson. I explained to the kids that each piece had a value. They were going to need to “buy” their pieces to build the items they wanted to build. The shorter pieces were less expensive than the larger pieces, and the connectors were the most expensive part yet!


I had each of the kids build a “piece of furniture” out of their Intooba pieces. They were supposed to use 15 (or less) pieces for their creation. Doodle chose to build a slide, because “a slide in the house would be so cool” and at his calculation, it would cost him less than 5 dollars to put the whole thing together!

Bug, his older brother, chose to build a chair. It took exactly 15 pieces but cost closer to 10 dollars to build. Once the kids made their first creations, I explained to them that the challenge was now to build a different piece of furniture for half the cost.


Bug really took to this challenge. He was able to build a smaller scale replica of the original chair he built- it was small enough to fit within the seat of the first chair! It was fun to see him calculating the cost of his new creation, and celebrating when he pulled it off and was able to create a chair at half the side.

We then sat down and discussed how this sort of thing happens all the time in the real world. I told the kids about the table their Dad and I built last year. I wanted so badly to have a nice, big farmhouse table. The kind that would seat a whole dozen people if I wanted. Unfortunately, a professionally built table of this size was way out of my budget, so we took the time to find plans for a similar table, and invested in wood that cost about half of the original. We poured our time and energy in to the table, and now it’s my most favorite piece of furniture- it’s made doubly special because we took the time to problem solve.


I love that this lesson had real life applications. It combined an engineering challenge with a math problem. It allowed the kids to get creative, while also thinking about the practicality of their design. Doodle, who doesn’t always enjoy sitting down to a lesson, much less working through math problems happily calculated the cost of his creations as long as he was allowed to continue to CREATE. It was wonderful to watch him learn without him even realizing this was a lesson. This is just ONE lesson of many that Intooba provided to our family. There are many more ways for us to use this manipulative set, and I am sure we’ll be sharing more of them on the blog in the future!

Now, I hate to share new resources without a GIVEAWAY!! Intooba was gracious enough to offer a set to one lucky blog reader- enter to win using the widget below and get a set to use in your home or classroom!


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  1. My daughter is great at math and we try to keep it as hands-on as possible. She has a way of seeing the connections that I think is impressive for her age.

  2. My oldest child enjoys math. My youngest is a newborn and I hope she will love math when she is a little older. My oldest is a hands-on learner and I enjoy teaching math while incorporating life skills such as cooking.

  3. I love math, and so do my kids, but some concepts are harder to grasp and my youngest has trouble not finding something easy. If it’s not easy, it’s impossible. I am so interested to try these manipulatives. I am hoping it makes the learning more like playing and that’s always a good thing for those with short attention spans. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. My youngest loves math but it’s hard for her. Luckily, I love math so I *try* to incorporate it into our daily lives with our budget, grocery shopping, baking & cooking, etc.

  5. My kids like math, but it’s been a struggle to keep it that way. I’m okay with math, neither love nor hate, but I often fail to find the excitement needed to make it that much more cool for the kids. Manipulatives like this will probably make a big difference in our household!

  6. We love math around here. My middle son who has the most learning challenges loves it too, but mainly only if I can sit next to him and read everything. He loves the math part, but dreads the reading part!

  7. My child doesn’t always enjoy math. Certain things get her attention for a stretch of time and others she’s not even paying attention the moment we sit down. I don’t enjoy teaching it very much either.

  8. These look awesome! I have 2 whom I homeschool, and an Autistic kindergartener who attends public school but would really benefit from these.

  9. My two kids are ok with math, as long as it’s on computer, they’re not too fond of regular “paper math”. But they do love any sort of manipulatives i use to include when they’re struggling with it

  10. My girls are 10, 8, and 5. They all do well with math, but don’t love it. My middle one is very tactile. My littlest loves math and is very fast at grasping deeper math reasoning skills. These tools would be a fun way to enhance math learning in our home. I really loved math as a kid and like teaching it.

  11. We are just digging into math. Our problem is figuring out how to get my hands-on learner to understand it. He hates to sit for worksheets, and I hate busy work, so anything that can teach without worksheets is great in my book.

  12. These would be amazing! I have a 5, 8, and 11 year old, and I have no doubt they would be a huge hit at our house as well!

  13. My granddaughter is only 4 but she comes from a big math family and loves to learn so she has been learning math fast.

  14. This looks amazing! I have a child who could definitely benefit from such a product. Very hands on and needs to see things rather than just be told. I think my bold little 2 yr old could benefit from this also!

  15. Our homeschooling family of 5 (kiddos that is) has several different styles of “learners”.
    We’ve got engineers and artists. I’m intrigued by how diverse your children are and yet it seems like it was still an applicable style of learning for all of them.
    Tactile tools are our favorite! Thanks for sharing a method I haven’t heard of!

    1. Brittany, we designed the INTOOBA Construction Kit for children aged 5 and up. We made a product that encourages creative play, yet has the capacity to teach math and engineering concepts. It is certainly not a “one use” product.

  16. I was never strong in math. I don’t feel confident teaching it to my kids to be honest. I would love a little help!

  17. I have a 4 1/2 yr old who loves math. We have a math manipulative set but these are very different. I think he’d love them!

  18. My son struggles with math and I believe because of this he is doesn’t love it. It is difficult to get his attention focused on math. This may be one way to make it fun for him!

  19. We have a 5 year old who struggles with math, but loves anything hands on. Previous to reading this email, I didn’t know this tool existed. He would love this.

  20. My son loves math when he understands it. I’ve tried to include more hands on learning/ manipulatives this year to teach and it’s really helped!

  21. My daughter does like math even though it’s not her favorite subject. I have always liked math to a certain degree, but I would rather teach English or history instead.

  22. We don’t use a curriculum for math, so none of us hates it. We are always trying to find hands-on and real life practice for math. So, you know, we do a lot of baking. ? I really like the idea of having a scenario that includes math as a byproduct. Then it’s not ‘making’ anyone do anything, it’s just what the activity is. Like baking, Yum.

  23. My kids love math, but I lean toward unschooling, so it’s not so much about actual lessons. Both of my kids are also on the spectrum, so sitting down with a math lesson every day didn’t work well for us. They love discovering new connections on their own, like how different numbers can be used in multiplication to get the same answer. Or figuring out how much more money they need to save to buy that Lego set (of course) or video game they want.

    1. Amanda, we developed the INTOOBA Construction Kit so children could learn math concepts using their hands and minds. We follow the principle that, if you can see something, you are more likely to remember it and understand the concepts behind math and engineering. For example, if you can build a bridge on a budget, math shows its application in real world challenges.

      Our starter kit is very open ended for creative play, and we give suggestions on math learning and construction.

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