Cuisenaire Rods as a Full Curriculum: Turning Play into Learning

Cuisenaire Rods as a Full Curriculum: Turning Play into Learning

Cuisenaire Rods maybe the best part of your morning school routine, but you are thinking "how in the world can I make this a full curriculum?"


No worries. It isn’t as hard as you think. Playing with Cuisenaire rods offer a deep curriculum. Cuisenaire rods are just a bit subtle in their offerings. Just look at the infographic below. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

But Lacy, I am just a mom with no math training. Me too. I promise Gattegno can walk you through this, and you will be a math pro before you know it.


Let’s discover how Gattegno’s book works and the advantages it offers. Gattegno wants you to utilize a child’s innate mathematical awareness. Yes, your child is mathematically aware, and you know this because heaven forbid you dish out candy unfairly.

Gattegno’s Textbooks are FREE online (check out my Cusineaire Rod resource page), and this is one advantage. Let’s examine Textbook 1.

  1. Free Play
    1. You may already be doing this, and it has been going grand. You never had kids so excited to do math.
    2. This is part you love and yet are most skeptical about. Children pick up a lot of information by playing. They grasp ideas intuitively and this shows up in their ability to manipulate the objects to create per their desires.
  2. Literal Work
    1. LETTERS AND MORE LETTERS To keep children from being overwhelmed by numbers and to focus children to observe the structures, students will be taught to express their observations using letters first.
    2. THE ARBITRARY We call a toad a toad and everyone knows what we are talking about. In literal work, we tell children that a yellow place end to end to another yellow is expressed as y + y. Basically, this is the work of teaching mathematical notation, the language of expressing mathematical ideas.
  3. Number Work (Study of 1 -10)
    1. Gattegno introduces the idea that the white rod will be used as a unit of measure. Basically, white equals one. Many children will have already decided this for themselves at some point. That is okay.
    2. The arbitrary information gained in LITERAL WORK will be used to express the math concepts they have already discovered in qualitative and literal work. This time the child will use numbers instead of letters.
  4. Application
    1. This is merely math concepts expressed in story form. How many purple rods would you need to give each of the four boys one purple rod? How many red rods do you need to give two to five boys? Very basic and very simple.
  5. Number Work (Study of Numbers up to 20)
    1. This is a continuation of the earlier Number Work with additional arbitrary information introduced as need.

That’s it! Yes, Gattegno’s textbook 1 only covers up to 20, and yet there is a lot of depth being offered to the child. Do not be intimidated by the idea of learning fractions, multiplication and division side by side with addition and subtraction. For a child, it really isn't a great leap. These concepts are something they will easily discover for themselves through task based activities and manipulation of the rods.

The greatest work isn't teaching that one plus one equals two or two times two equals four. The first work is creating tasks that allow the child to discover those math ideas. The second work is providing the language so the child can articulate their math discoveries. In both works, you are acting as a facilitator not a teacher.  With a little time exploring Gattegno's open and go textbook and handbooks (found in the resources), you will be well equipped to do this.


Now, Why? Why Gattegno? The idea that you aren't teaching your children but serving as a facilitator seems a bit abstract right now. When you begin you journey, you will start seeing it's promise, but for now I will tell you. The promise is a self-corrective thinker who will be able to confidently think for themselves and to grasp learning with vigor and enthusiasm.

Next post, I will look

deeper into the value of confident, self corrective thinkers.
Lacy | Play Discover Learn 24/7

Knowing the best kind of learning comes from a highly motivated internal drive, Lacy Coker cultivates tools and resources that help to make learning for young children playful and self-directed.

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