One of my favorite ways to inspire and engage my young students (first grade) is through the use of themed manipulatives. I like to gather seasonal items from craft stores, party supply stores, and dollar stores. I store everything in one box- easy to keep track of and swap out.
Sometimes the objects are seasonal like these bats, eyeballs, acorns, pumpkin beads/pie plates, and jingle bells. I pull them out as the season approaches.
Sometimes I like to use more generic objects as game pieces (cars, dinosaur toys, bugs, mini erasers).
These counters came from a teaching supply store and come in all different themes (ocean, transportation, pets, farm animals, etc.).
One simple math game for decomposing numbers is Bellies Up/Bellies Down where students drop a handful of bug toys (you can give them a number to start with) and then count how many are facing up and down. This helps with finding combinations of a certain number. A variety of counter types could be used. The game can also be played with two different colored items (like buttons or pom-poms). Students can count how many of each color are in a handful or scoop of objects.
Do you have any manipulatives that your students love using? I'd love to hear from you and hope you can inspire your young students as well!