Multi-Sensory Instruction in Math for Special Education

Strategies to Build Math Skills for Students with Disabilities

For some students with specific learning disabilities in reading, Math may actually provide a bright space, a place where they can compete with their typical or general education peers.  For others, they have difficulty with the layers of abstraction they are required to understand and use before they get to the "right answer."

Providing lots and lots of structured practice with manipulates will help the student build understanding for the many abstractions they need to understand in order to succeed at the higher level math they will begin to see as early as third grade. 

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Counting and Cardinality for Pre-School

counting mats with toys

ThoughtCo / Jerry Webster

Building a sound foundation for understanding counting is critical for students to succeed in both functional and more abstract math.  Children need to understand one to one correspondence, as well as a number line. This article provides lots of ideas to help support emerging mathematicians.

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Counting Muffin Tins - A Kitchen Pan Teaches Counting

muffin tins with toys in them

ThoughtCo / Jerry Webster

Counters and muffin tins together can give students lots of informal practice in counting in self-contained classrooms. Muffin tin counting is a great activity both for children who need practice at counting, but also for students who need academic activities they can complete independently.

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Counting Nickels With a Number Line

pile of nickels

Tetra Images / Getty Images 

A number line is one way to help students understand operations (addition and subtraction) as well as counting and skip counting. Here's a skip counting pdf you can print and use with emerging coin counters.

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Teaching Money for Special Education

stacks of coins

philipdyer / Getty Images

Often students can successfully count single denomination coins because they understand skip counting by fives or tens, but mixed coins create a much bigger challenge. Using a hundred chart helps students visualize coin-counting when they place coins on the hundred chart. Starting with the largest coins (you may want to have them use a whiteboard marker for 25, 50, and 75 for your quarters) and then moving to smaller coins, students can practice counting up while solidifying strong coin counting skills.​

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Hundred Charts Teach Skip Counting and Place Value

teacher working with students with blue cubes

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This free printable hundred chart can be used for lots of activities, from skip counting to learning place value. Laminate them, and they can be used for skip counting in order to help students understand multiplication (color 4's one color, 8's over the top of them, etc.) as children will begin to see the patterns underlying those multiplication charts.

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Using a Hundred Chart to Teach Tens and Ones

place value blocks

ThoughtCo / Jerry Webster

Understanding place value is critical for future success with operations, especially when students begin to approach regrouping for addition and subtraction. Using ten rods and ones blocks can help student transfer what they know from counting to visualizing tens and ones. You can expand building the numbers on the hundred chart to doing addition and subtraction with tens and ones, placing the tens and ones and "trading" ten ones cubes for rods.

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Place Value and Decimals

young girl counting on fingers in classroom

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

By third grade, students have moved on to three and four-digit numbers, and need to be able to hear and write numbers through thousands. By printing and laminating this chart, you can give students lots of practice writing those numbers, as well as decimals. It helps students visualize the numbers as they write them.

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Games to Support Skills for Children with Disabilities

two kids sitting in front of game board

Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Students with disabilities need lots of practice, but paper and pencil are daunting, if not outright aversive. Games create opportunities for students to practice math skills, interact appropriately in a social way and build relationships as they build skills.

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Multi-Sensory Instruction in Math for Special Education." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Webster, Jerry. (2023, April 5). Multi-Sensory Instruction in Math for Special Education. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Multi-Sensory Instruction in Math for Special Education." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).