Simple Math: Hands On Addition

If your child has good number sense, he or she may be ready to start learning easy addition.  Here’s a simple, hands-on way I’ve used to introduce adding to my 4 year old using manipulatives and addition flash cards.  This is really simple math: hands 0n addition!

Hands On Addition

hands on addition

For this activity, you will need

  • printed numbers from 0 up to 9 or 10; we used these sandpaper numbers from Pollywog Learning Products Etsy store
  • two small containers and one large container — I tried to arrange ours to look like a car to be more appealing for my son! — or a divided plate with 2 small sections and one large section
  • manipulatives to use for counting; we used unifix cubes, but you could use pennies, marbles, buttons, pom poms, etc. — we put ours in a white bowl
  • flash cards; either purchased or made at home — we used Disney Cars flashcards


Activity Directions:

Set up your child’s work space as pictured using your materials.

hands on addition

Choose an addition flashcard.  I like to start with the cards that add 1.  Model how to read the addition problem while you point to the corresponding numbers; in this case, “One plus four equals…”  As you repeat reading the flashcard again slowly, demonstrate how to put one manipulative into one of the small containers or sections of the divided plate.  Then put four manipulatives into the other small container or section of the divided plate as you finish reading the addition problem.  

hands on addition

As you repeat reading the flashcard aloud a third time, move the manipulatives from the individual containers/sections into the large container/section where they are now combined.  

hands on addition

Count all the manipulatives.  “One, two, three, four, five.”  At this age, I encourage the child to touch the manipulatives while counting and move them away from the uncounted ones as they go.

hands on addition

Find the printed number five and put it below the flashcard.  Read the addition problem, this time with the answer.  “One plus four equals FIVE!”

hands on addition

Reset the work station and choose another flashcard.  This time, allow your child to help as they understand how to.  Continue to observe and model the correct way to do the activity when needed.  Repeat until the child is able to do a problem independently.  This may take several different sessions, as a young child’s attention span will probably only allow them to focus for 2-4 addition flashcards, unless they are really interested in the activity.

hands on addition


As a challenge, or for older children:

  • Instead of using flashcards, write the addition problem on a whiteboard or paper and have the child write the answer when they have figured it out.
  • Do the activity using subtraction cards.  Start with the manipulatives in the large section, then move them to the individual containers or smaller sections of a divided plate.  (i.e. For the problem 4-1=3, you would start with 4 in the largest section, then move one to a smaller section.  Move the remainder to the other small section and count.  “One-two-three.  Four minus one equals three.”)
hands on addition

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Genny Upton

A former teacher turned stay at home mom to two preschool aged children. Creator (and writer) at In Lieu of Preschool and Parent Teach Play. Currently publishing my first children's picture book!

  • Anonymous says:

    thanks for the great ideas!!! 🙂

  • Lesley says:

    really awesome idea!

  • Thank you, just an answer to prayer from earlier this week. DD is 3 and knows up to 10, a new twist on numbers and it will help her learn them in french too.

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  • Andy Ssvage says:

    Wow, this is a great DIY way to let little kids learn and better visualize Maths. I actively discuss such methods with my daughter’s teacher at Will North School and this once’s straight going to the next discussion. Thanks for sharing such insightful information.

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