Mama J here! Whenever I use the word "manipulatives" I usually confuse at least one person. However after using it every single day in my classroom, my first graders started using it themselves. Although it would sometimes come out as "manputives" I knew what they meant. :)
A manipulative is basically any "thing" you can use to manipulate. I ALWAYS used manipulatives in my classroom to provide a more hands-on learning experience. Research has proven that children learn much better through hands-on activities.
So here is an easy way to help your child work on writing, spelling, reading, vocabulary, math and many other subjects at home. First, I always like to have a place to "work" with our manipulatives. This is where your creativity comes in. It really can be ANYTHING! A plate, a white board, a blanket, a magnet board, a bowl, anything. This is your child's workstation. Now come the manipulatives. Once again, use your imagination! It can be any kind of food item (your child's favorite candy, marshmallows, raisins) or, marbles, magnets, pennies, shaving cream, etc. Now the activity: for example, for spelling you can have your child (instead of writing their spelling words a thousand times over and over) write their words using the pennies....and then have them add up how much money is on their plate! For a preschooler, have her practice making each letter of the alphabet on a different day/week by putting shaving cream on a surface of your choice, and then letting her use her finger to make the letter. After she makes the letter she can tell you what sound it makes and maybe think of a word that begins with that letter. I use manipulatives such as rocks to help my one year old with his gross motor skills. We put rocks from one bowl to the next and back and forth while singing the song "one little two little three little (instead of bubbles we say rocks) four little, five little, six little rocks, seven little, eight little, nine little rocks, ten little rocks go CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK (and we tip over the bowls of rocks).
Those are just a few examples of how you can use manipulatives with ALL ages and in many fun ways. If you need more ideas/options on how you can use manipulatives with your child, feel free to leave a comment with your question and I will gladly get back to you!
Have fun learning!