Manipulatives are used to teach concepts. They offer hands-on practice which helps students form lasting kinesthetic memories. They aid in concept internalization and retention .
Research now suggests that quantity representation may be a core deficit in math disability. However, many students who are not identified as having a math disability also fail to automatize math facts or truly understand procedures they are asked to perform. Some students truly need to experience the growth of quantity to understand place value. They may need to physically bundle and un-bundle quantities to form tens, hundreds, thousands and more. Certainly, many students fail to understand regrouping if they have not physically had to unbundle a quantity of objects for that purpose.
Younger students may benefit from using craft sticks or even dry beans to create place value models. They may use sticks and dollar store hair bands to create tens, and bundles of tens to create thousands. My young students even create a bundle of ten hundreds to create one thousand. They marvel at the size and weight of it. This is a terrific precursor to commercial place value blocks. Any home school parent can afford $3 for a thousand sticks, and teachers or schools may create entire class sets of manipulatives at very little expense.
Purchase a place value mat or make your own using the table function of your word processor. Blow it up at the local office supply store. Have your students construct and name quantities as they match the manipulatives to the numbers they write. Practice the language of naming quantites. Practice creating quantites from written numbers. Pair the language of math with the physica representations. Your students will thank you for the opportunity to build and you will be building more than a collection of sticks.