10 Jun 2019

# Concrete resources explained for parents: How to use them with your child at home to create a maths master!

• By Emma Johnson  |
• 10 Jun 2019  |

You may have heardÂ ofÂ the Singapore/Shanghai approachÂ to mathsÂ and the term â€˜masteryâ€™ mentioned in the press or from your childâ€™s school, but whatÂ actually isÂ â€˜masteryâ€™?Â

When people firstÂ hear theÂ termÂ â€˜masteryâ€™Â they sometimes assume it is something only the most able mathematicians will achieve.

This isnâ€™t the case!

â€˜Masteryâ€™ is something we want all children to achieve and involves utilising a range of strategies to help children develop a deep and secure knowledge and understanding of maths. One of the key elements involved in maths mastery is the use of concrete resources, and that is what we will be taking a closer look at today.

### What are concrete resources?Â

One of the key features of Singapore/Shanghai method of teaching is the concrete â€“ pictorial â€“ abstract (CPA) approach, where children are initially introduced to new conceptsÂ through the use ofÂ concrete resources.

If youâ€™re wondering what on earth is meantÂ byÂ â€˜concrete resourcesâ€™ then youâ€™re not alone!

Concrete resources (also referred to as manipulatives) are objects or physical resources that children can handle and manipulate to aid their understanding of different maths concepts.

The abstract nature of maths can be confusing for children, butÂ through the use ofÂ practical resources, they are able to â€˜seeâ€™ the maths and make sense of what is actually happening.

#### The Top 10 Concrete Resources You Need To Have At Home

Download our FREE list of the Top 10 Concrete Resources You Need To Have At Home (And Their Free Alternatives) and see how you can use them to help your child excel at maths at home!

### What is the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (CPA) approachÂ

Once children are confident with a concept using concrete resources, they progress to drawing pictorial representations or quick sketches of the objects.Â By doing this, they are no longer manipulating the physical resources, but are still benefiting from the visual support the resources provide.

Once children have a secure understanding of the concept through the use of concrete resources and visual images, they are then able to move on to the abstract.

Taking short division as an example, the formal method is difficult to understand. Although children can be taught the method without understanding the maths behind it, this can lead to confusion errors and difficulties with retaining or remembering the skills or knowledge required to complete division calculations successfully.

If children are taught to use place value counters (concrete) they can make sense of the method.

Once confident with this, they can move on to recording the place value counters pictorially and eventually move on to the abstract formal written method.Â

### Why these teaching aids are a crucial part of mastery teachingÂ

In the past,Â children were taught procedures, but not why or how the procedure worked. In other words, children learnt the methods to get to an answer,Â without any understanding of the maths behind each method or procedure.

Some of you may be thinking, â€˜That worked for me, why do children need to understand the maths now?â€™

While there are children whoÂ are able toÂ access the maths through just learning a procedure by rote, many others have great difficulty copingÂ with the abstract nature of it.

Teaching methods without meaning leads to misconceptions, errors and difficulties in retaining the methods. OnceÂ children canÂ actually â€˜seeâ€™Â the maths, they are much more likely to understand and accurately remember the methods… So, although they should not be exclusive to, concrete resources are particularly important for those children who find maths difficult, or lack confidence in maths.

### How can I support my child with maths at home using concrete resources?

It isnâ€™t just at school that children can benefit from accessing concrete resources in maths. They are equally important at home. Lack of resources couldÂ be seen asÂ a barrier for supporting your child this way at home, but it doesnâ€™t have to be.

In this blog, I will point you in the direction of the best resources you can buy to teach the key topics, but I will also share ideas for sourcing/creating your own resources at home, to mimic those used in school.

Iâ€™ll be looking at some of the key topics in maths and identifying the best concrete resources for supporting children (both bought mathematical resources and free alternatives you can access easily at home).

Look out also in this blog for the videos made with my daughter Amber at home showing how the resources help to explain some of the trickier concepts

### Key topics

There are of course many topics that you could cover when helping your child with maths at home, but as we can’t cover them all in one blog here are the ones we feel will be the best use of your time!

### Place value

#### School Mathematical resources â€“ Dienes equipment, Numicon and place value countersÂ

Children begin to learn about place value by representing numbers using Numicon and Dienes equipment.

These areÂ excellent resources for bringing to life the relationship between units, tens and hundreds. Their relative sizes really enable children to visualise the numbers and see the relationship between them.

Once children understand place value using Numicon / Dienes equipment, they progress to using place value counters. These are used in a similar way, with counters representing ones, tens and hundreds, but with the key difference of all being the same size.

This is useful for bridging the gap from the concrete to abstract nature of place value.

#### Home alternatives for learning about place value

Straws, lollipop sticks or anything else that can be bundledÂ together areÂ a fantastic alternative to Dienes equipment. For example, individual straws can represent the ones and bundled together into tens to represent the tens.

Lego is another good alternative, using individual bricks for the ones and joining together to make tens. The childrenÂ are able toÂ visually see the link between the size of the individual straws/bricks and the bundles of ten straws/bricks.Â

Place value counters can easily be made using plain counters and a marker pen.

Alternatively, you use money, with 1p representing the ones, 10p then tens and Â£1 the hundreds.

### Written calculation methods

#### School Mathematical resources â€“ Dienes equipment, Numicon and place value countersÂ

Once children are secure with place value, theyÂ are able toÂ use the Dienes equipment or Numicon as a first step in understanding the written methods for column addition and subtraction, grid method multiplication and bus stop/short division.Â

The equipment is set out in columns on a baseboard as a concrete representation of the formal written method. Children use it to add/subtract the ones first and then the tens. If the calculation requires exchanging, theyÂ are able toÂ physically exchange the ten ones for a ten and vice versa.Â Â

As with place value, children progress to replacing Dienes equipment or Numicon with place value counters to solve calculations involving the four operations.

#### Home alternatives for learning about written calculation methods

As with place value, you can use anything else that can be bundledÂ together as an alternative to Dienes equipment.

Place value counters Â are easy and cheap to make and coins are another great way for showing hundreds, tens and ones for written calculations.

### FractionsÂ

#### School resources: Fraction cubes, fraction circles, Numicon, multi-link cubes, countersÂ

Different ways of showing one sixth – Numicon, two-sided counters and pizza (left to right)

Fractions are an area of maths children can find particularly difficult, due to their abstract nature. For this reason, it is essential they have practical resources to hold and manipulate or play with.

Fraction cubes or circles and Numicon are very useful for aiding understanding of the fraction of a whole, add to that using place value counters, multi-link cubes, skittles or smarties and you can demonstrate a real range of fraction concepts: from the basics of what a fraction is; to recognising equivalent fractions; understanding what happens when a fraction is greater than one and for adding/subtracting fractions.

Here is a video demonstrating using fraction circles and cubes to introduce children to the basics for understanding equivalent fractions:

Here is a video showing usage of concrete resources when two fractions are added together:

Finding fractions of amounts is another concept children can have difficulty grasping, particularly when the numerator is greater than one. Using resources, such as cubes or counters – or beans, skittles, smarties or pasta pieces – and physically sharing them out really helps children understand.

Here is a video showing fractions of amounts using the pictorial example of the bar model to explain how it can be used to help children understand.

#### Home alternatives for learning about fractionsÂ

There are lots of cheap/free alternatives to buying fraction resources.

Fraction circles can be made out of paper plates, or downloaded off the internet and printed onto coloured card.

Lego and printable fraction strips are a good alternative to buying fraction cubes.

For fractions of amounts, anything that can be shared out can be used. Food works particularly well for this. For example: raisins, grapes, sweets etcâ€¦

How Matrâ€™s one-to-one tuition incorporates virtual manipulatives to help children achieve in maths

Here at Matr we are huge believers in the use of manipulatives both in and outside the classroom. As has been discussed throughout this blog, they are a fantastic way to aid childrenâ€™s understanding of difficult maths topics.

That is why our lessons include a range of virtual manipulatives – digital versions of the concrete resources mentioned above, including place value counters and Dienes.

To find out how Matr can help your child work through all elements of KS2 maths in a fun and engaging way, take a closer look at our maths programmes now and find the right one for your childâ€™s needs. We have programmes designed for children in Year 2 through to Year 6, so there is something for everyone with Matr.

### Decimals

#### School resources: tens frames, hundred squares, decimal place value counters, decimal cubes.

When children are first introduced to decimals, tens frames are useful for helping them to understand tenths, whilst hundred squares support children with recognising hundredths.

Tens frames are a particularly useful resource for enabling children to see the link between decimals and fractions, whilst also helping children to understand concepts such as rounding decimals.

Place value counters positioned on a place value grid are useful for helping children to understand place value of decimal numbers. Children can visually see how many tenths and/or hundredths a number has and they can help them understand how to compare and order decimals.

#### Home alternatives for learning about decimals at home

All these resources can be found/created at home. Tens frames, hundred squares and decimal strips can be printed off the internet whilst decimal place value counters can be made by writing 0.1 on one set of counters and 0.01 on another.

### PercentagesÂ

#### School resources: Hundred squares, percentage cubes

Hundred squares are useful for supporting childrenâ€™s understanding of the concept of percentage being â€˜out of 100â€™. Hundred squares can be shaded in, or place counters on each square, to represent different percentages.

Percentage cubes are also useful in helping children to understand percentages and enable children to see the link between fractions, decimals and percentages.

#### Home alternatives for learning about percentages at home

As with decimals, hundred squares and percentage strips can be printed off the internet for free and lego is a great concrete resource for supporting children with percentages.

#### The Top 10 Concrete Resources You Need To Have At Home

Download our FREE list of the Top 10 Concrete Resources You Need To Have At Home (And Their Free Alternatives) and see how you can use them to help your child excel at maths at home!

### Telling the timeÂ

#### School resources: Clock faces

An example analogue clock-based question from Matrâ€™s Year 3 Reasoning Paper

Analogue clocks, which can be manipulated by moving the hours and minutes hand around, help children to grasp the concept of time.

Ideally these clocks will have removable hands, to enable children to look at the hours and minutes hands independently, before looking at both together on the same clock.

Children can struggle to understand the concept of time when presented with both hands together. It is much better to teach children to understand the hours hand by itself,

then the minutes hand,

before bringing both hands together onto the same clock.

We have produced several videos on analogue time, with the first one showing how oâ€™clock and half past can be introduced using only the hours hand

#### Home alternatives for learning how to tell the time

Clocks can be made using card.

Hereâ€™s an ingenious solution to stop your young children becoming organic alarm clocksâ€¦ Thatâ€™s right, no waking up the grown-ups until 7am at the earliest!

Make two separate clocks to represent the hours and the minutes separately before looking at two hands together on one clock.

Counters or lego cubes can be used when making a clock showing the individual minutes.

In this video, we used blue counters to show minutes past and red counters to show minutes to; we look at both the hour and minutes hands on separate clocks, before looking at the two hands together on one clock…

### Properties of shape

#### School resources: 2D and 3D shapes, polydron geometry set

Do you remember these plastic polydron puzzle pieces from your school days?

Children are much more confident identifying properties of shapes when they are able to physically hold them. It is important children understand that the 2D shapes arenâ€™t strictly 2D, but are 2D templates, which can be drawn round to create 2D shapes.

3D shapes the children can hold are much better than 2D drawings of 3D shapes for looking at properties, such as number faces/edgesâ€¦

Polydron geometry sets are great enabling children to explore nets and constructing 3D shapes.

#### Home alternatives for learning the properties of shape

There are many opportunities both at home and when youâ€™re out and about to investigate shapes and their properties.

Children can look around the home and outside – going to the shops, on the way to school, eye-spy in the car, wherever – and identify any 2D / 3D shapes they can see. This can generate lots of discussion round their properties.

Children can make 3D shapes using play-doh or lego. Alternatively, they could get creative using marshmallows and toothpicks – or bamboo skewers and masking tape – to construct a range of 3D shapes.

When making 3D shapes from nets, a whole range of nets can be downloaded for free from the internet, which is a great alternative to the plastic polydron geometry sets.

### Why you should use concrete resources in your home

If you havenâ€™t tried using concrete resources to support your child at home before, then give it a go!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of topics and resources.

Hopefully these suggestions have given you some ideas and a starting point, whilst providing an insight into how useful concrete resources can be in helping children to understand maths.

It doesnâ€™t matter what age your child is, concrete manipulatives are a fantastic way to help your child grow their confidence in maths so what are you waiting for?

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