Healthy children love to be active and play; they are naturally drawn to touching and exploring their environments. Why not collaborate with this natural instinct and provide opportunities for experiential learning? Especially basic math, such as fractions, geometry, algebra etc. should be taught with tangible materials – to keep the joy of learning alive!

Hands-on experiences build a foundation for the abstract concepts of books and results in deep understanding that is rooted in the body. This is the foundation for heart-based intelligence. Through the use of hands-on materials, children can more naturally develop their skills, such as fine and gross motor, sensorial and academic skills, logical, visual, and kinesthetic thinking. They can make use of their natural capacity to focus all energies on one activity in the present moment, and master the elementary and middle school curriculum with ease.


Many child-centered educators developed hands-on learning materials, knowing very well that children learn by doing. New Learning Culture Consulting uses selected materials, elements, and teaching skills from Maria Montessori, Friedrich Froebel, the Reggio Emilia approach, democratic education, Boris and Lena Nikitin, Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf, Célestin Freinet, Elfriede Hengstenberg, Eduard Seguin, Rebeca and Mauricio Wild, Anne Beate Huber, Claus-Dieter Kaul.

Topics, usually taught only on paper, can be introduced with hands-on learning materials: addition, subtraction, multiplication, times-tables, division, fractions, decimals, percentages, money, geometry, square-roots, basic algebra, language, grammar, science, history, astronomy … you name it!

Materials are available for each developmental stage. Some are interesting for all ages. For example, a square root board can be used for square root equations, and also to make beautiful patterns.

Many materials can be made at home with art supplies and recycled materials such as egg boxes. Visit the NLC blog for a few DIY instructions to materials or check some of the countless online resources.

When hands-on materials are provided in a self-directed learning environment with healthy boundaries, children can learn at their own pace while receiving error feedback and experiencing the direct results of their activities. This is very empowering and allows for intelligence and even brilliance to emerge.

(Note: I list these links because I like them. I do not receive any portion of the sales.)

Maria Montessori
Montessori materials are developed for kindergarten, elementary and high school ages. They are basically divided into practical life, sensorial language, mathematics, biology, and geography materials.

•To create your own materials/DIY:
My blog and articles

• To buy materials: (Made in US, family-owned business) (Affordable Materials made in China or Thailand, not clear from website) (Founder Albert Nienhuis collaborated with Dr.Montessori) (A global hand-made market place)

Friedrich Froebel
The Froebel hands-on materials, called “Gifts” were developed for kindergarten ages, but can be provided for elementary grades, too. They train spatial, mathematical, and architectural thinking. Frank Lloyd Wright loved them! They clarify the concepts of two and three dimensions, building, constructing, structuring, recognizing, and creating meaningful patterns.
They can be used in three different ways:
– Forms of Life (to tell/hear stories in connection with the child’s life),
– Forms of Knowledge (to learn specific math, geometry or language skills)
– Forms of Beauty (to explore symmetric patterns, such as mandalas, and assymmetrical patterns)

• Philosophy:

• Materials:
(Scott Bultman’s company, Author of “The Paradise of Childhood: Froebel Quotes”)

Boris and Lena Nikitin
The Russian parents Boris and Lena Nikitin raised their seven children in the 1960s believing firmly in the natural ability to learn and adjust to environments. They transformed their home into play and learning environments and developed highly intelligent learning materials which are being used in European alternative schools. I haven’t found them for purchase in the U.S. yet.

The Reggio Emilia approach
The Reggio Emilia approach originated for kindergarten in Northern Italy after WWII. Today a few alternative schools are continuing this approach for elementary children.
To summarize, Reggio Emilia is based on the following:
– Raising awareness for community through participation in the village/town events, and providing a community space and art gallery at the school.
– Developing the child’s “One-Hundred Languages” (a famous poem by founder Loris Malaguzzi) through art. In fact the children are provided with an elaborate art studio that also allows self-directed learning.
– “Look at the child” is a descriptive term for teachers getting inspired by the child’s world and imagination, and allowing an emerging curriculum through co-creation with the child.
– High awareness of “the environment being a third teacher”, next to the child, and the teacher.

• North American Reggio Emilia Alliance NAREA:

Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf
• Philosophy:

• Materials

Célestin Freinet
• Philosophy:

Emmi Pikler and Anna Tardos
• Wisdom for being with babies:

Elfriede Hengstenberg
• Materials:

Rebeca and Mauricio Wild
• Philosophy:
“Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids” (book)

Eduard Seguin
• Materials:

Ancient Materials
• China: Abacus
• Incas: Taptana, Yupana

Child-friendly Furniture (Made in US, family-owned business)