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Using manipulatives in the foundations of arithmetic

Researchers: Professor Rose Griffiths | Dr Sue Gifford ...

Project overview

Manipulatives are objects that can be handled and moved. These range from everyday items such as buttons and shells, to resources like abacuses, Cuisenaire rods, and Dienes blocks.

Research in teaching arithmetic to young children suggests that manipulatives can support mathematical development. However, the most effective ways to use manipulatives are not clearly understood by teachers, and so they are often under-used.

This study explored the learning and teaching of basic arithmetic for children aged 3 to 9, focusing on the effective use of manipulatives. The researchers reviewed current and historical research and practice. They then developed detailed exemplars of good practice together with teachers and children. The culmination of this work is an excellent handbook for teachers that is based upon the latest evidence from research.

Making Numbers shares examples of good practice in the use of manipulatives to help children develop mastery of counting, place value and calculation. The book is supported by a series of innovative animations and a short booklet that illustrate approaches to exploring numbers in a creative way.

These resources seek to support teachers as reflective practitioners, while also being of practical value to teachers and enhancing learning opportunities for pupils.


  • Professor Rose Griffiths
    University of Leicester
  • Dr Sue Gifford
    University of Roehampton
  • Dr Jenni Back

  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.