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Time4Learning Demos

Recycle and Reuse: Manipulatives You Can Make!

Think out of the box to create your own educational manipulatives to keep your homeschoolers learning!

By: Andrea Dillon

The cost of homeschooling is a concern for many families out there. While there are many cheap and free curriculums there are also extra expenses that many don’t think about. One of those is educational manipulatives. 

What are educational manipulatives? 

Educational manipulatives are concrete materials (things that can be physically touched and moved) used to teach and engage students visually and physically. These items are used to help get the student actively engaged in the learning process. 

Manipulatives can help explain concepts to your homeschoolers and give them the ability to quite literally take learning into their own hands! This is especially true when teaching concepts in the early years

If you are lucky, you can find some cheap, gently used items for sale or some new ones from the local dollar store bins. If not, then you can expect to spend somewhere between $10 to $80 depending on how fancy you want to get. 

I myself have learned that this is one area that I can really cut costs and make my own manipulatives from recycled and reused materials that I have around the house or can collect easily from friends and family! 


Make your own free manipulatives: 

Bottle Caps 

These are one of my favorites! You may not be able to save a lot of bottle caps on your own but get some friends and family involved and you will get there…trust me! 

Grab a permanent marker and make all the things! 

  • Write letters on the caps to help with alphabet recognition or use the letters to practice spelling and making words!
  • Create your own phonic tiles by writing blends, vowel combinations, and more. 
  • Have older children? Write words on the caps and use them to make sentences or poetry! 

  • Write numbers to help with number recognition or get hands-on math practice.
    • Build your own hundred chart!
    • Use the caps alone as math manipulates to help with addition and subtraction and even multiplication and division!
    • I also had an idea one day and turned our bottle caps into impromptu clock practice.
    • Different colored bottle caps are also great to use for patterning practice!

Pro-tip: use stickers to label if you want to reuse for multiple activities or use rubbing alcohol to remove permanent marker (works on some bottle cap so try at your own risk). 


Pool Noodles 

Grab those noodles from the pool once the cold sets in and use them for learning

Two of our favorites:


Keyboard Keys 

This one was a surprise find for me. I had a bad year for computers a few years back and ended up with some DEAD DEAD DEAD laptops. I had a strange idea to pull off the keys and save them. At the time I wasn’t sure why but then one day I had an idea! I grabbed some cheap magnets and created our own letter board. The kids love to use these for spelling practice and writing daily quotes. 

I know dead laptops aren’t something we all have just hanging out (hopefully) but check with your family and friends and maybe hit up some thrift stores. You might get lucky and score some super cheap keyboards! 



This one seems plain at first but there is just so much you can do.

  • Give the littles fine motor skill practice and make your own lacing cards
  • Create your own puzzles with labeled boxes to help with problem-solving or create self-checking games!
  • You can also make some creative thinking manipulates! Keep those boxes and with some time and scissors, you can create a great boredom buster and STEM thinking manipulative! You can even use toilet roll tubes!


Old Bed Sheet

This one was a lifesaver in my house. I had kids that just needed full-body activities so one of the ways I found to do that is to make everything BIGGER! Take an old sheet (or shower curtain),  a large permanent marker, and create a large hundred chart! Now the kids can hop on each number as they count or race to sit on the number you call out! We also used this for addition/subtraction practice as the kids got older. I’d call out a problem and first on the correct answer got the point!


These are just a few of the ones I have personally used but there are so many different cheap and easy ideas out there. So, start thinking out of the box for educational manipulatives to use while you homeschool and keep learning!

Have a fun idea, a question, or a comment? Leave it for me in the comments below!

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