Playing with Place Value

by Melanie Skelton

Place value is an important math skill for a student to master. They continually use this skill as they learn to add an expanding number of digits and continue to use it as they delve into multiplication.  Like any new concept, it can confuse a child.  But it doesn’t have to be confusing…or boring.  Hands-on activities can help the kinesthetic learner understand place value.  

You will need a set of manipulatives for this activity.  These are fun and easy for children to make themselves.  Or you can use a set of purchased base ten block manipulatives.

Help your child make their own set using craft sticks, dry beans and glue.  Glue ten beans on each craft sticks.  Make at least twenty of these for each child who will be playing the game described in the following paragraphs.  These are the “logs” or “tens”.  Glue ten of the prepared “logs” to two craft sticks (one running up each side in a direction vertical to the “logs”) to create a “raft”.  With at least one “raft”, ten “logs” and ten loose beans you are ready to play.

But first let’s discuss how to teach place value with these manipulatives.  Lay out three sheets of paper.  Label them “ones”, “tens” and “hundreds”.  You may choose to draw nine circles on the ones sheet and nine rectangles (big enough to fit a “log”) on the tens sheet.  

Explain how only nine beans have a place on the ones sheet.  Once there are ten they have to be traded in for a “log” or a “ten”.  Continue this explanation with the “tens”.  Again, there is only room for nine “logs” or “tens” on the sheet.  When they have ten they must trade it in for a “raft” or a “hundred”.

Now the fun begins.  Get out the dice and let them start adding.  They roll the dice and add that many beans to the ones on the paper, carefully following the rules you have taught about place value.  They start with single beans and try to build an entire raft one dice roll at a time.

Make this a game for more than one child to see who can build their raft first.  Soon they won’t need the papers to understand how to set up their place value.  Each player takes a turn rolling the dice and taking the number of beans they rolled.  As they continue to play they trade the beans in for “logs” and then “rafts”.  When everybody has built their raft it is time to turn the game around and start subtracting. Using these manipulatives may also help your hands-on learners as they begin doing written problems with more than one digit.  Allow them to work the manipulatives as they learn to write it out.  This will give them a better understanding of what they are doing and help solidify their math skills.