My children play with linking cubes at least once a week. Because they are so versatile, they make excellent math manipulatives to have on hand. Here are ten of our favorite math activities with linking cubes. The activities span a range of ages from preschool through upper elementary.
Math Activities With Linking Cubes
Practice Counting and One-to-One Correspondence
Counting linking cubes is a good way for preschoolers to practice one-to-one correspondence. (One-to-one correspondence means matching one object to one number or object such as saying “one” as you touch the first block, “two” as you touch the second block.)
Add variety to counting practice by playing a game such as a race to build a tower of twenty cubes. To play the game, roll a six-sided die on your turn. Attach one cube to your tower for each dot on the die. Continue taking turns rolling the die and adding cubes to your tower until one player has twenty cubes on his or her tower. The first player with twenty cubes is the winner.
Practice Number Invariance
Number invariance refers to the number of objects remaining the same regardless of their arrangement. If you begin with six cubes, you would still have six cubes regardless of whether they are separated into two piles, arranged in a triangle, or a few hidden under your hand. Allow your child to practice this skill while you are counting objects. Hide a few with your hand and ask how many are on the floor. Rearrange the cubes and ask how many are there. Your child may need to count the cubes until he has mastered this skill.
Linking cubes come in a variety of colors and styles. Your child can practice sorting the cubes into piles of the same color. Snapping the cubes together also provides fine-motor skills practice.
Practice building patterns with linking cubes. Begin with a simple ABAB pattern such as green, purple, green, purple. Snap cubes together to form this pattern and ask your child to add a few more cubes following the same pattern.
You can increase the complexity of the pattern as your child becomes comfortable with this activity. Alternate taking turns creating and then completing the pattern.
Estimate and Measure Length
Linking cubes are a great way to practice nonstandard measurement since all cubes are the same dimensions. Begin with a small object such as your child’s finger. Ask him how many cubes long he thinks his finger is. After he answers, instruct him to snap that many cubes together and compare it to the actual length of his finger.
The possibilities for measuring with linking cubes are endless: feet, shoes, books, tables, your child’s height, couches.
Estimate and Weigh Objects
Linking cubes also make a great weight for measuring small objects on a balance. Place an object in one bucket and ask your child how many cubes he thinks it weighs. Then instruct him to place that many cubes in the other bucket. Add or remove cubes until the balance is level. Compare the number of cubes your child estimated the object would weigh with how many it actually weighed. Repeat this activity with other small objects.
Build Addition Tables
Building addition tables is a great way to learn and practice the addition facts. A child is able to use manipulatives and see that 1 + 3 = 4 and 1 + 5 = 6.
Practice Part-Whole Partitioning
Understanding that one part (2) plus another part (4) equals the whole (6) is an important concept in math. Linking cubes provide an excellent opportunity to practice this skill. Draw three circles on a piece of paper or a whiteboard as shown in the picture below.
Here are two examples (one for addition and one for subtraction) using the example of 2 + 4 = 6.
To practice addition, place two orange cubes in one of the part circles and four blue cubes in the other part circle. Instruct your child to place the number of cubes in the whole circle that equals the total of two cubes plus four cubes.
To practice subtraction, place two orange cubes in one of the part circles and leave the other part circle empty. Place two orange cubes and four blue cubes in the whole circle. Instruct your child to place the number of cubes in the empty part circle that will equal six cubes minus two cubes.
Using different colors may help your child see the equation of 2 + 4 = 6.
Practice Math Facts
You could use problems from a math worksheet or roll dice to practice math facts with linking cubes. Write the symbols “+,” “-,” and “=” on a piece of paper or on a piece of masking tape attached to a cube. If your child is rolling dice, instruct him to roll two different dice, then snap cubes together to match the number of dots indicated on one die. (E.g. if your child rolls a six one one die, he should snap together six cubes.) Repeat for the other die. Ask him to snap the total number of cubes together to solve the problem.
Use linking cubes to create a bar graph.
Storing Linking Cubes
Linking cubes usually come in packages of 100. This sounds like a lot, but to really use them as a math manipulative (or just about any other activity) you should have 200. Each package of 100 usually costs $10-15. We store ours in a plastic tub.
Looking for more math game ideas?