More Math With Cuisenaire Rods

When I was in 5th grade my mom transferred me to the school where she taught Kindergarten, so every afternoon I would spend at least an hour hanging out in her classroom waiting for her to finish prepping for the next day.  One of my favorite ways to pass the time was with a set of Cuisenaire rods.  I was fascinated by these colorful wooden rods and used them to create all sorts of designs and patterns.  I loved how they could visually represent addition, multiplication, fractions, and many other math concepts.  (Yes, I was that kind of kid.)

P1030139Years later, when I was going through my teacher credential program, my mom told me that her school was cleaning out an old supply closet and I should come by and see if there was anything I wanted to have for my own future classroom.  When I saw a set of Cuisenaire rods, I felt like I’d found buried treasure.  (They also make plastic rods, but I have found they don’t work as well in some situations because the edges are just slightly more rounded, so if you’re looking to buy you might want to consider spending a little more for wooden rods.)

In the years I spent teaching, I must admit those rods didn’t come out much since they weren’t part of the curriculum I was required to teach.  Homeschooling, however, has been a different story.  All of my children love them and use them in different ways.  (Well, Nicholas just teethes on them when he’s lucky enough to get his hands on one, but the other kids are a bit more creative.)  I shared some of the ways we’ve used them back when we first made Our Foray into Math, but since then I’ve come across a few other ways to incorporate Cuisenaire rods into our days.

Basic Math Facts

As we worked our way through Year 1 of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP), I found the rods to be an invaluable aid.  Math isn’t Ian’s strongest subject, and I love the way the rods ensure that he can really see what the numbers mean as we work through problems.  One of the struggles we’ve encountered this year is committing basic math facts to memory.  For a while we were using (basically online flashcard drills), but then Ian tired of that and it became a battle rather than a help.  When faced with a practice book page with a large number of problems, he’d get discouraged before he even started because it would take him so long to get through each one.  I didn’t want to just skip the problems because he does need the practice, but using counters, fingers, or a number line was taking a really long time.

Then I remembered the Cuisenaire rods and thought we’d give those a shot.  When faced with a problem like 8+5 = ?, rather than counting out all the Unifix cubes he would need (which was a great way to learn at first), it’s so quick to just grab the 8 rod and the 5 rod (easy for him because he’s used them enough to be familiar with the associated colors) and place them on our track:



It works well for subtraction too.  For example, if Ian sees 15-6=?, he takes the 6 rod, scoots it up to the 15, and then has his answer.


Being able to work through these problems quickly has totally changed his attitude, and I hope that in time the repetition will help him to memorize the facts so he won’t need to use the rods.

Education Unboxed

My latest favorite way to use the Cuisenaire rods is going through the videos at Education Unboxed.  This site has tons of homemade videos showing how one mom used the rods to teach her children, and she has shared them all for free.  I LOVE these!  I’ll get out our rods, put on a video, and then just let the kids go.  They’ll see what the girl on the screen is doing and see what the mom is explaining, and then copy or build off of that concept.


It’s especially helpful when the daughter in the video doesn’t do what the mom wants right away and she has to really work through the thought process.  My boys have both learned a lot from these videos, and Arianna is soaking it all up as well, though right now she just enjoys playing with the blocks and sorting them or making designs.P1030118

One of the great things about going through these videos is I don’t have to tell my kids who the lesson is aimed at.  Sometimes I’ll put one on with Ian in mind, sometimes with Elijah.  Both of them love watching the little girl in the lower level videos (who is absolutely adorable) and end up working through the lesson, even if I’ve told them they can just play.  (We’ve only watched the easier videos so far, but I’m looking forward to working through all of them eventually!

Cuisenaire rods are still my number one favorite tool for teaching math, and we may just have to add another set now that we have more kids wanting to play with them!



Posted on May 23, 2014, in Homeschool Resources, Kindergarten, Preschool and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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