20 DIY Letter and Number Manipulatives: Hands-On Learning Made Easy!
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Buying letter and number manipulatives for all the themes can break the bank! So I have rounded up my favorite DIY letter and number manipulatives you can make on a budget. These DIY manipulatives are for math and literacy activities plus they help build fine motor skills! You can also make a number set for math activities that are similar to any letter manipulative you see in this post.
Check out all the Math and Literacy Centers for over 35 different theme ideas!
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DIY Manipulatives for Little Learners
Wood Ring Letters! These natural letter pieces are going to get used quite frequently in your classroom for a camping, farm, nocturnal animals, or hibernation theme, to name a few. You can grab these wood slices here, and then I used a permanent marker to write the letters. I wrote uppercase letters on one side and lowercase letters on the other.
Rock Letters! Go on a rock hunt or grab some from the dollar store, and use a paint marker to write letters on each one. The paint marker will wear off over time, but I just rewrite it and use again. You can put modge podge on them if you want more staying power.
Shell Letters! I love these shell letters for a beach or ocean theme, and your students will love them too! I like to use mine in kinetic sand for a sensory writing bin. I wrote the letters with a permanent marker on some store-bought shells.
Circle Letters! I created these circle letters with these stackable counters. Use a permanent marker to write all the letters of the alphabet or numbers on them, and students can stack and spell or count.
Translucent Chip Letters! Create some DIY letter and number manipulatives for your light table with a permanent marker and some of these chips. I love these magnetic ones because students can use a magnet wand for an easy way to clear their area and make a new word.
Egg Numbers! Use plastic eggs to create a fun counting game for preschool students. My students counted out pom poms and placed them inside the number eggs. This works on one-to-one correspondence, number identification, and counting skills. Plus, grabbing small manipulatives is a great way to build fine motor strength. Make this a letter game by having students place letter manipulatives into the matching egg.
Gem Letters! These are a favorite in my classroom for a winter, ice and snow, or polar animals theme. Or they sell different colors that will work for other themes! I love the gems because they can also be placed on the light table! Students can also place them in a sensory filler since they are easy to clean.
Gem Numbers! These numbers manipulatives are made with glass gems but are in a larger size than the letter gems above. These also work great on the light table!
Dog Bone Letters! Grab some dog bones and use a permanent marker to write letters. I wrote upper case letters on one side and lower case on the other. These would be so fun for a pet theme!
Bean Numbers! Use some lima beans to create a DIY letter and number manipulative that is great for a plant, spring, or farm theme. Just use a permanent marker to write the letters or numbers.
Golden Bean Letters! Spray paint some lima beans gold and write letters or numbers on them. Now you have the perfect DIY manipulative for a fairy tale theme!
Spoon Letters! I used plastic spoons from the dollar store and a permanent marker to create these DIY letter and number manipulatives. You can use a colored one and a clear one for a fun matching game.
Clothespin Letters! Grab a pack of clothespins from the dollar store and make your own letter or number clips for tons of learning opportunities. These are great for a clothing theme or just for extra fine motor practice while practicing letters.
Lego Letters! I grabbed a cheap set of large legos from the dollar store and used a permanent marker to write letters on the blocks. I put letters on each side, and students can practice spelling their names or sight words by building a word tower. Students could also match capital to lowercase blocks.
Pool Noodle Letters! Cutting up a pool noodle is a great way to make a ton of DIY letter and number manipulatives for a couple of bucks! I used a serrated knife and cut the pool noodle into about an inch wide piece. Then wrote letters on them. Students can match capital to lowercase or stack them to spell words. Throw them in a water table for a more engaging literacy activity!
DIY Manipulatives with Stickers & Tape
Coin Letters! Pick up some fake coins and use dot stickers to make DIY letter and number manipulatives! I like to use these for a pirate, treasure, or St. Patrick’s theme. You can have capital letters on one side and lowercase on the other.
Lid Letters! Keep your water bottle lids and create a budget-friendly learning manipulative for your classroom. I used dot stickers to make them more colorful. These would be great for a hands-on way to learn about a recycling theme or Earth Day.
Cup Numbers! Use little plastic cups and place a dot sticker inside with a number on it. Then students can use tweezers to pick up and count that many pom poms into each cup. Students could also use little scoops or just their fingers to get the pom poms.
Car Numbers! Use some tape and write numbers on your cars. This way, you can peel the tape off and use the cars for other areas throughout the year. I like to make a parking lot that has the parking spots numbered, and students have to park their car in the correct space.
Duck Letters! Attach some dot stickers to your ducks to make a DIY letter and number manipulative that matches your theme. You can do this for any manipulative you have that you don’t want to write directly on; that way, you can make learning manipulatives for any theme!
DIY Dice! Use any wood or foam cubes to make more sets of dice for your classroom. You can make dot dice, numeral dice, shape dice, color dice, and more!
Different Ways to Use Manipulatives in the Classroom
Writing Trays! Make your DIY letter and number manipulatives more engaging by placing them in a writing tray that matches your theme. I used dyed salt, sticks, and letter wood slices to make this fun activity for a nature-themed writing tray.
Butcher Paper Activities! I love butcher paper activities for my preschool students to practice letters and numbers! They are large and get students up moving and stretching while learning. Plus, students work on team building and communication skills. Make your butcher paper activities match your themes for more engagement.
Sensory Tables and Tubs! Putting your DIY letter and number manipulatives into a sensory table or tub is a fun way to engage little learners! I created a treasure box sensory bin with kinetic sand, plastic gems, letter coins, cut-up bead necklaces, and tweezers. It was so much fun!
Hands-on Activities! Take your DIY letter and number manipulatives and create a hands-on activity that will engage your learners to practice their letter sounds. I used a paper plate and some letter beans to make a fun letter-matching game!
Matching Games! I like to use my DIY letter and number manipulatives to create matching games that go along with my themes and are easy on my wallet! I used sparkly paper to make a crown, and students matched letter chips on it. This is a great activity for a fairy tale theme!
Printable Games! Grab these FREE printable letter strips to make a letter-matching game with your DIY letter and number manipulatives. Young children can use clothespin letters to clip the matching letter and work on their fine motor strength.
DIY letter and number manipulatives can be used for small groups, whole groups, morning time, or center time. Be sure to teach your students the correct way to use the manipulatives, and if you have eaters make sure to use objects that are suitable for them. DIY manipulatives are a creative way to practice letter formation, number sense, alphabet letters, and number recognition.
As you can see, there are TONS of DIY letter and number manipulatives you can make with things you may have in your classroom or items you can find at the dollar store! I love making my own manipulatives because it saves me money and allows me to have specific things for each theme. I find this is the perfect way to make learners more engaged in your learning centers.
Check out all the Math and Literacy Centers to get printable resources for over 35 themes! Or grab the themes bundle and save money!
Check out this post to learn how to make rainbow and bean rulers for little learners.
Learn how to make letter sensory bottles for another engaging literacy option!
Check out the number sensory bottles for another engaging math option!
Check out the YouTube video for more DIY letter and number manipulatives!
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hey, i’m jackie!
I’m Jackie, your go-to girl for early childhood inspiration and research-based curriculum.