A wide variety of materials used in child care and early education programs fall into the category of "manipulatives," including different types of building bricks and toys, collections of objects for sorting, small dolls and animals, and many other types of toys. Manipulatives, sometimes referred to as table toys, are an important part of the early childhood curriculum because children can use them to practice a wide variety of skills. Some of the most common skills children learn by using manipulatives include:
Understanding the child's role: The manipulatives center is a place where children are generally working alone or in pairs on tasks that require concentration and thought. It is important to set up a manipulatives center far away from centers that tend to be noisy and active, such as block building and dramatic play. Having child-sized tables with only a few chairs at each table further encourages children to work individually or in small groups.
Understanding the teacher's role: Teachers can support children's play with manipulatives by providing interesting materials, rotating materials based on children's interests and curriculum themes, and asking questions that stimulate children's thinking. For example, the teacher could ask a child who has grouped a set of toys by color whether there is any other way to group them, such as size or shape.
Early childhood educators also need to teach children the guidelines for using the table toys center. Some common rules include:
Teachers are responsible for the following in the manipulatives/table toys center:
For more specific tips on setting up a manipulatives/table toys center, see Planning a Successful Manipulatives/Table Toys Center in Child Care.
To learn more about using learning centers in the early childhood classroom, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:
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