Cultivating Deeep Thinkers in a Thoughtless Society

Cultivating Deep Thinkers in a Thoughtless Society

In a hurried society bombarded with massive amounts of information and cultivated to respond impulsively without consideration of implications, deep thinking appears to be a loss art form.   Even more of a loss art is exhaustive thinking that promotes self-correction.  With all the demands placed on educators, how does one cultivate such thinkers?

What if there was a FREE math curriculum that was built on play and yet cultivated deep, self-corrective thinkers?    Maybe you vaguely remember playing with colorful rods in elementary school?  But no one made you aware of the ingenious mathematical power those rods contained let alone the pedagogy surrounding it.


Those rods were invented by a man named Cuisenaire who wanted to make math as playful and as enjoyable as learning to play an instrument.  Gattegno stumbled upon Cuisenaire’s creation of colorful mathematical rods and spread the joy across the world, but the rods offered so much more than any other manipulative.

What Gattegno and his predecessors were able to cultivate in young children is proof of the rich capabilities found within Cuisenaire Rods.  Imagine taking five year old children and within just a few months have them thoughtfully create equations like the ones below.

Unfortunately, the art behind the rods have been pushed aside for the more hurried memorize it approach, and with it, we have lost the art of genuine discovery and thoughtful considerations.


Today, you have stumbled upon this post maybe in hopes of cultivating a deep thinker, and if you so choose, you will embark on a discovery of a pedagogy that implements simple, joyful task-based exercises that lead children to discover for themselves mathematical ideas.

Gattegno truly believed that just about anyone could guide children into the wonderful world of math and rich thinking, and he set out to create small simple books to guide educators on this journey of developing children into self-corrective thinkers.

Yes, self-corrective thinkers.  That is the unique joy of Cuisenaire rods is that they allow children to test out ideas for themselves and to embark on journeys of thoughtful, exhaustive discoveries.


In a world where information is available at our very fingertips, we must realize the greatest power is no longer knowledge.  The greatest power lies in one’s ability to synthesize information for the purpose of solving the many difficult and challenging problems that face our world.  It is the power to exhaust all possibilities of an idea in order to determine the idea’s sufficiency to genuinely solve a problem rather than create more problems.

Today, we must look to developing our children in away that  cultivates their awareness, encourages them to test ideas and think more deeply. Seeing the failure of tested ideas as part of the learning process removes the negative stigma that surrounds wrong answers which in turns encourages a growth mindset.

Of course, this requires a more unhurried approach for the purpose of providing opportunity to develop deep thinkers.   Truly deep thinking requires time, and yet in those long moments of thought, true learning is being developed as awareness grows and synthesizes and connects information in a way that adds true depth and meaning to the individual.

This is the advantage of Gattegno’s pedagogy and the Cuisenaire Rods.  It’s the reason it spoke deeply to my heart.  With information growing exponentially, there is very little time being taken to consider the long term consequences of each decision made for each piece of knowledge gained.


Once upon a time, society had time to consider the impacts of the printing press and to consider its value, its possible danger and the possible challenges  it would create for the future.  With little time to consider anything but the next moment, we find ourselves cultivating a future that will consider less and less.  It is a frightening thought, but we have the joy as home educators to choose differently for our children.

We have the choice to cultivate self-corrective thinkers who can think abstractly, deeply and exhaust the implications of ideas and challenges they might bring.  It is a journey that we can embark on together with our children for we too are products of this hurried, thoughtless society.

It seems such a lot to ask out of Cuisenaire Rods to cultivate great minds, and yet, Gattegno spent decades exploring these curious rods and implementing a Heuristic approach that did just that.  He said that he was always learning more and more from them, and he saw the enriching capabilities the rods had on young children.

Children could through playful exercises discover ideas, test theories and think abstractly.   The children became confident, joyful thinkers.  That is what we want as parents and educators to cultivate thinkers.  Mindless memorizing machines are what we use as tools to cultivate and communicate ideas.  There lies a great danger in cultivating mindless memorizing machines.

While many math manipulatives can help improve a child’s understanding of math, there is very few  math curricula that develops a child beyond the empirical awareness.  Gattegno gives you, the educator, skills to push children beyond the empirical towards the exhaustive exploration to the final stage of mastering structures.  Indeed, understanding the structures of mathematics cultivates an individual who is able to thoughtfully synthesize information and to test  and correct their own ideas.

Mindless memorizing machines are not able to currently cultivate original thought or ideas, and with great thinkers set out to create machines with such abilities, we are in a desperate need of deep thinkers who have exhausted the implications of creating such machines.  Such void of thinkers could prove perilous as this TED talk by Sam Harris points out.

If you are ready to embark on a learning journey with your children, I encourage you to discover all you can about Gattegno and his books. Check out the Cuisenaire Rod resource section and subscribe to my monthly math newsletter where I will give you tips, strategies and encouragement to cultivate confident self-corrective thinkers using Cuisenaire Rods.  You will also receive a freebie, PDL’s Number Building Play Mats, when you subscribe that will begin your child’s journey towards exhaustive discovery in a way that is playful and engaging.

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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