Twelve Little Girls in Two Straight Lines: Simple Math Manipulatives for Preschoolers

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines

Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”
Thus begins Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline, a book published in 1933 that has since become a classic and inspired movies and television shows around the world.
Five in a Row suggests doing math activities around the “twelve little girls in two straight lines.” We sorted, counted, added, subtracted, and even divided using sigay shells as manipulatives to represent the 12 little girls.


Manipulatives are important to make math concrete and exciting for young children.
Concepts become more real and easily understood when touched with one’s hands. In the early years just about anything can be used as manipulatives. 
Rocks, paper clips, candies, and cotton balls can also be used. We like doing the following math activities without feeling that we’re doing math at all!
CountHow many are red? Give me five yellow beads
Compare How are these candies alike? Which group has more?
Sort Put all small, red paper clips on this side and the big, red paper clips on the other side
Classify Which child (jar) is the smallest? And the largest?
Order Can you arrange the girls (bottles) from smallest to largest?
Simple ArithmeticHow many girls are there? What if Madeline went to the bathroom, how many girls would be left? Oh! Two girls joined them, how many are they all now?

An idea for the busy, working mom

If you happen to be reading a book with your child that mentions a number, like Madeline, take off from there. Grab some cotton balls from the bathroom and have an instant learning moment with your child. By doing some of the activities above, your child can also play pretend, practice fine motor skills, explore textures, and generally just have some fun with you.

What else can we use as manipulatives? What books have you read that inspired some math fun?

Make magic!







  • http://www.thelearningbasket.com/ Mariel @ The Learning Basket

    Thank you, Ninang C! :) 

  • Ninang C

    Mariel, I am a fan of yours. I like how you apply everyday life situations, daily conversations, and ordinary materials to your teaching. I will definitely suggest to Nikki and my future daughter-in-law to subscribe to this. :)