Friday, 6 December 2013

Math Rods Are Genius!

Math is my least favourite skill.  Ten minutes of financial talk at work and I start to zone out.  I even failed accounting in college.  That, folks, is why my husband does our household finances.

Now that my little girl is in preschool, I dread the prospect of having to go through math again.  But apparently there are better ways now - ways even I get excited about!  If like me, you're not sure how to supplement math at home, I hope you find this useful.

One of the reasons why I chose Montessori over a traditional school is their math program.  Montessori uses hands-on materials that kids manipulate themselves to make quantities real.  

The math corner in every Montessori classroom: sandpaper numbers, counting boxes, number rods, beads, beginner algebra cubes, geometric solids and more.

Once you get started you'll wonder how you ever learned math the old way.  I was so impressed, I actually downloaded the lessons over at Montessori Printshop. (*nerd cough*)

Without that I would have continued to believe this would work:
Apparently this is all just memorising without beginning with logic - pretty much how we're taught before.
Well no wonder I'm so bad at math, because I have horrible memory!

And I would have believed everything toy makers would say about beginning math skills:

Like this regrettable one-hit-wonder toy I got

I confess I did try to be "teacher" and do the lessons I downloaded, but I didn't have fun.  Neither did Ladybug Girl.  I just couldn't shake off the traditional teaching mode I grew up with.  I would rather relax and make math fun at home instead, knowing how it was taught in school.

Start with identifying the symbols of 0-9 and their quantities.  Montessori starts with sandpaper numbers.  We skipped this and did usual stuff like counting books.  Did that have anything to do with her disinterest in math?  I mean, really, counting books are totally boring. 

After that it's lots of practice counting from 0-10 with materials.  Nothing beyond that yet-  if you move too quickly kids don't build the logic of the decimal system which is based on 10s.

Sorting quantities into the right number box at school.  

Copying this at home as leave-behind activity with whatever we have.  Here it's empty playdoh cups and poker chips.  
Using our abacus as another leave-behind activity for practice.   I stuck price stickers as number labels on each side. (It's pretty intuitive without the sign on top, but I use it to practice her cursive reading)

I know she likes something when she can't wait to do it at bedtime

Then the decimal system is introduced to them and they start adding/subtracting within 10.  Montessori uses number rods like these:

At work with the number rods in school.  

I came across this similar toy and watched a few fascinating videos from Education Unboxed on how to use them.   Can you believe these can teach counting to high numbers, place value, all the formulas, even fractions and algebra?  From one little box of sticks!

from Fundamentals or Hobbes and Landes, 999 pesos.  These are also called Cuisenaire Rods online.

If you can't find them, you can easily make your own with Lego.  Wait, that actually sounds more fun.
Something like this.
But instead of the Montessori pattern, make colored pillars.

The videos made it look so easy, I decided to try.
We started seven months ago and they are a now a permanent part of our shelves:

The number sticks are on top.
The box on the bottom has the ones for teaching tens, hundreds and thousands (1,200 pesos)

For someone like Ladybug Girl who says "I don't like numbers", start slow.  I left the sticks out for months of free play to learn the names for each.  We pretty much make it up as we go along.

"What can this nine be?  An elephant trunk!"

Sort and count how many does each colour have?
"There are x of the four sticks.  Oh no, it's winning over the ten sticks!"

Make them into music shakers.
"Which number rods should we try?  Ok, the twos!"
I love that it's been my regular go-to activity for after-office playtime.  By then I don't have much energy left for more elaborate play.  I keep it super simple and go with the flow:

"Whoever grabs an eight rod first wins!"
"I'm going to use the sixes for leaves"
"Follow my pattern".  See how it builds number sense here.

Eventually you'd know when it's time to introduce the number stairs, just like the number rods in Montessori.  The stairs is the basis for everything.

It's a helpful visual to always have at the side.
I watched this video as a guide.  Here she is making the "baby unit" go up the stairs.

I sneak in lots of play on making the stairs:

She made the mirror image of my stairs and kept going

We've been reading about Ancient Egypt and this is her "step pyramid"
After our Thailand trip, we made a wat (temple).  This is a great video here on how it builds number sense.

Using the stairs to build pretend-buildings and stories

This has gotten pretty long, but I can't stop now!  Part 2 would never make sense! 

Moving on to the real math part, here's how the number sticks help with:

Understanding the repeating pattern of the decimal system after mastery of 1-10 rods.  I watched this first.
Here the "baby ones" want to climb the 22 steps, cross the bridge, and go down the ladder to join the family on the boat. 
How many babies can cross the lake bridge?  We love making stories out of numbers.
Drawing the scene around the number sticks.  This is also great for writing practice.

Making doors for the game "having a party" which is from here.  This is already beginning addition because only pairs of rods that can fit in the door to make that number can join the party.

This was weekend play still on learning the number bonds that make ten.  Unlike the little girl in the video here,  Ladybug Girl shies away from this activity so this was a sneaky way to get her to solve the challenge.

Practicing odd / even numbers thanks to a Montessoi chant she brought home:
"Three, Five, Seven, Nine - we're the numbers who are fine"
We jumped all over her room in a sort of game.
I've now begun to adapt the number sticks as leave-behind activities that she can do at home while I'm at the office.  If you're new here, (*welcome*) leave-behind kid activities are my thing.  I test them out and share what's easy and fun here on this blog.

Play this a few times together first - it's fun!  You put two rods together and hide the answer in the box.
This one is "6+2" and I've hidden "8" in the box.  Sometimes she does one for me to solve.

Here it is as a leave-behind activity on her shelf: she puts her answer, and checks the rod in the box if it's right.

I recently brought out the number magnets so she can start memorizing the number bonds together with their symbols. She puts both the answer rod and the numeral.

I copied the idea from our word-making tray.

We've still got lots of pictures and activities but for next time.  Was this helpful or was I just geeking out by myself??  Hee.  Indulge me, folks, I'm a math-hater who finally got math to click in her head.  Yet another transformation thanks to the grace of motherhood.

Excuse me while I try to analyze my profit-loss statements at work without zoning off this time.

See the rest of the posts how we use number sticks!
browse the archive


  1. This post makes me want to re-learn Math all over again, haha! Seriously, though -- thank you for sharing this! So inspired to also do these activities with my son. (The ones that we can, at least!) Maraming salamat! :)

    1. Hi Chely, I'm glad I didn't geek out by myself with this math stuff! Haha!! If your son is anything like my daughter, starting slow and easy always works! And then nowadays she's on a math kick!

  2. I absolutely love your dedication to your daughter and the thought you put into your time with her despite your buys working schedule. I am a stay at home mom and I still have a hard time ensuring that my time with my children is quality and educational.... In regards to the rods, are the taught the same was as the Montessori rods?

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, R. I am half-understanding your SAHM predicament: I've experienced that myself in my long break this holiday. Why is that?? I haven't figured it out yet.

      On your question, I'm basing my answer on reading the Montessori Math Manuals I bought from MontessoriPrintshop.Com and YES they are essentially (90%) the same teaching method as Montessori. Although this is only one of the many many math materials in Montessori, it can already teach the important basics I mentioned. Example, fractions are not taught in Montessori using these number sticks but they can! In fact I like it more than pie charts because they are easier visuals to remember. The more extensions of a toy or material you can use, the better.:) I sound like an expert, but I assure you I'm not ok. These are purely based my observations and love of research. Haha. Please check back next week for another post on using the number sticks! So happy you found me.

  3. Hello! You've inspired me to teach my son math the Montessori way. Just want to know if the set you bought (Gigo) feels hollow/light? Thank you :)

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