When I was little, my mom brought home a box full of curious little pieces of wood in bright colors. These would help me learn math, she said. I didn’t see how, but they were fun to build with.
As skeptical as I was, I gave them a try, and you know what, I actually did learn math.
You see, each piece of wood represents a different number. The number one block is white, and it is one centimeter square. The number two is represented by a piece that is 2 centimeters by 1 centimeter, and is red. When you lay the red piece and the white piece alongside each other, you can see that the red is twice as long as the white. Number three is 3 x 1, and is even longer than the 2. They go all the way up to 10, which, as I’m sure you can guess, is 10 x 1, a long, thin rod in the color orange.
So how do they work, you ask?
Pretend for a minute that you take the 10 rod and lay it down. You pick up two 5’s (they’re yellow) and lay them down next to the 10. The two 5’s are the same length as the 10, and you can instantly see several math formulas.
5 + 5 = 10
10 / 5 = 2
2 X 5 + 10
Because two yellows make an orange, or, two 5’s make a 10, your child can grasp the concept of how the numbers relate to each other.
By picking up a black (7) and a light green (3) and laying them down alongside the orange (10) it becomes obvious that 7 + 3 = 10. It goes on from there, math becoming accessible and tangible, numbers coming to life.
Now I have a set of Cuisenaire Rods of my own. My children and I like to sit down and play with them. I have them choose one of the longer rods and then make as many math problems as they can with them. They think they’re playing with blocks, but I know better, and it’s reflecting in their overall math performance.