Ways to use Cuisenaire Rods
© Beverley Paine, Nov 1999
Do you have a set of cuisenaire rods, or looked at them in the shop but wondered how you'd use them? We have two sets, plus the wooden M.A.B. blocks that we bought from Educational Aids at Wingfield twelve years ago.
I used to just let the children play with them mostly, using some creativity on my behalf at times. We would combine them with the M.A.B. set and they would add the Brio trainset or the matchbox cars and we would build landscapes. I'd set tasks like, 'build a building with 7,926 units'. This was great fun and the resulting layout would remain for a couple of days to be included in imaginative play. I found that this was a very easy way of introducing place value in number. I'd be the brick 'bank' and the kids would have to exchange cubes, flats and rods for units or whatever all the time, asking for exactly what they wanted. Thomas enjoyed this game from about three years of age!
Another thing we would do is build towers, but with imposed restrictions - like all the sides would have to be 8 units, using all the rods (the mab bases -100- would serve as floors), the kids would sit 2's and 6's on one corner, an 8 on another, a 5 and a 3 on another etc. Lots of fun when they fell down. And again it teaches basic number facts in addition and subtraction, only the children didn't know that!
We'd also make mosaics and patterns, stairs, you name it. The children all saw the mathematical value and emerging concepts were concreted into their brains....
We'd often just line them up - how many green rods to five orange rods, etc - the basis of multiplication and division. The children loved arranging them back into the boxes the rods came in - this was just as absorbing as the games we played.
Occasionally we'd use the Mortensen maths approach to solve some mathematical problem - but that was LONG ago when were were fixated on a paper based approach to learning math. But the Mortensen approach is firmly based on cuisanaire so it is well worth checking out. You don't need their hardware - the wooden equivalent locally available is just as good.
We focussed on having fun mostly. The kids liked it better that way. But I think the secret to success with these kinds of things is not leaving the child to play or manipulate them by himself - I would always sit and play with my children, sometimes directing, but more often just joining in with their ideas and having fun.
Links to more information about Cuisenaire Rods:
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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