Cuisenaire Rods review homeschool

Cuisenaire Rods – awesome math manipulatives

One of the best math investments for us were the Cuisenaire Rods. You simply can’t fail with them.
We’ve been using them successfully for most of our elementary years and you can even go beyond that if your kids still need them to illustrate more complex concepts.

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Cuisenaire Rods Best Math Manipulatives by monkeyandmom

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What are Cuisenaire Rods?

Cuisenaire Rods are small wooden (or plastic) rods ranging from 1 cm3 to 10x1cm, of various colors.

They are awesome math-helps for illustrating a lot of concepts from counting to fractions or percents. Cuisenaire Rods can even be used to illustrate geometry concepts.

Here’s how the colors go (I am using the Gattegno notation):

Cuisenaire Rods chart

M. absolutely loves them (even now, at 9!). And we just decided to “revive” them by starting Caleb Gattegno’s Textbooks.

I managed to take only a few photos and videos over the years although we have used them pretty much everywhere in math.

In this post, you’ll also find multiple links to external websites that have documented the use of Cuisenaire Rods far more than we have. I linked to our favorite App, some free lessons and books to get you started.

When it comes to math, this is the number one resource I recommend all parents to buy for their kids. Children can learn every single math concept in a fun, logical way.

M. helped me make a video presenting the Cuisenaire Rods and some of the resources we use with them which you can get for free by subscribing to my newsletter at the end of the article.

Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract with Cuisenaire Rods

It’s how Singapore Math (or Math in Focus) works too, with the 3 stages of learning math concepts: concrete, pictorial and abstract.

Concrete means hands-on. Use manipulatives to SHOW how the concept works, let kids explore and figure things on their own. This is the stage where Cuisenaire Rods play an important role.

Pictorial means passing the concrete into 2d. You’re basically drawing what you saw with the concrete step. Here you use bar models to illustrate problems or draw 10 frames for mathematical operations.

Abstract is the math on paper, using abstract symbols for numbers and operations.

Free play with cuisenaire rods

I highly recommend you don’t “rush” to the abstract part. Let kids explore hands-on as much as they need.

I wish I could turn back time and tell my inexperienced self the same thing. There is no need for a 4-year-old to “write” his answers. I wish I’d let him play with the rods even more.

Free play with Cuisenaire is very important in order for kids to become familiarized with the rods. Equally useful is creating fun stories around them.

At first, you don’t need to assign numbers to the rods. Keep calling them by color until your children can quickly identify them. Then as you add in more structured play, start introducing the number names corresponding to each rod.

As you start using them for “real math”, don’t forget to keep creating fun stories.

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom5
Cuisenaire Rods, Base 10 Blocks and Geometric Solids
Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom27
Cuisenaire Rods Tower- counting backwards from 10 to 1

Counting and numbers

Cuisenaire Rods can be used from the very first time you start introducing the concept of counting or numbers to your kids.

Here’s M. at 4, using abstract and concrete skills to find out the numbers. We could have added a pictorial too for a full experience.

He is “reading” the number cards, adding the corresponding number of buttons underneath and then finding the correct cuisenaire rods to represent the number.

He is learning the counting order by arranging the Cuisenaire Rods according to their sizes.


A story we liked to tell was that the little one wants to climb a ladder all the way to 10. We need to build that ladder quick so 1 doesn’t fall. 1 cannot jump over two spaces either, let’s help him by adding numbers.
This soon turned to 1 wants to go to 20 and beyond. Poor 1, he must be quite a climber!

You can continue this by making a ladder for 2 or 3 (learning skip counting in the process).

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom1

How many ones go into 5? What about 10? A fun way to see this is to create a story. If I remember ours correctly, we made “teeth” for every number. How many teeth (ones) does the yellow rod (5) have?

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom25
How many ones are there in a number?

When M. started counting well, up to 100 and beyond, he arranged his blocks in bigger patterns by using our Base 10 Blocks (it’s a great addition to Cuisenaire Rods to make bigger numbers). It’s mesmerizing looking at the patterns numbers form again and again and again. It was very interesting for me to watch as well because we never got to “play” with numbers like this in school.

Of course his idea was to go on and on and on… too bad we were out of blocks and rods!

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom26
Arranging numbers in order from 1 to 10
Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom18

Adding and Subtracting

From counting it’s a small step to addition and subtraction because by playing and counting with them they already grasped the concept of adding one more (to count) or 2-3 more to skip count.

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom4
M. and his kindergarten math

I introduced him to both abstract and concrete stages at the same time but it’s totally normal to do the writing for them at this stage. Just ask them the final result.

I found it very important to spend as much time as M. needed with Cuisenaire Rods until he mastered the addition and subtraction up to 10 because this would be the foundation for any further operations.


One story for addition that we LOVED was the “Party” story. I think we heard it from Educationunboxed, but I might be mistaken.
It goes like this: 10 is throwing a party where all numbers (from 1 to 10) can go, but 10 has a rule that they can only attend 10’s party in PAIRS that make 10. Poor 8, he wants to go to the party but he needs to find a pair to make a 10. Which number can he take with him to 10’s party?

Of course all the numbers threw parties with the same condition to attend. 5 allows only pairs that make 5 and so on.

I remembered M. was very into creating these little silly stories and math was going smoothly with them. He couldn’t wait to do some more addition.

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom28
5 year old cuisenaire addition
Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom30
Whatever videos I could find with M. trying to add with Cuisenaire Rods

Multiplication and division

When introducing multiplication, you just need to remember that instead of “times” you use “of”. So 4×5 is read as 4 of 5. You ask the kids to show you 4 fives and then count them (skip counting comes in handy here) or they can just group them: two fives and two fives.

Do not introduce kids to the classic lists of multiplication tables that need to be memorized. They need to understand how numbers work by using Cuisenaire whenever they need, and not “forcing” them to remember the facts.

You can see below how we used the Cuisenaire to find out the square roots of numbers. Basically learning the doubles in multiplication. M. found out all their values on his own.

I let M. use the rods any time he needs them. Even though he needs them less and less as he practices more math facts, sometimes he will ask for them just for fun.

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom2
Multiplication book by Usborne

For practicing multiplication and division, we still use games of all kinds. They help with speed and memorizing the facts.

Games using Cuisenaire Rods

One thing I learned with math in general is that you can’t go wrong with games. Here are 2 of the games we love playing with Cuisenaire:

Gobble up! – an addition and subtraction game

We adapted this from a version over at Educationunboxed. Check them out for more Cuisenaire ideas and games!

You can download our set of Cuisenaire rod games for free by subscribing to my newsletter (link at the end of the article).

You need 2 dice and your cuisenaire. The number 1 rods will be used as markers as well.
The dice numbers can be added or subtracted and the result is then “gobbled up” by a one marker. The person to cover their side of the game board first wins.

Have fun!

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom23

Castle Walls Game – multiplication with Cuisenaire

One of our favorite games is CASTLE WALLS:

  • each player rolls 2 dice (you can use more) and multiplies the 2 numbers
  • with a highlighter they color their rows and columns according to the numbers they rolled (the bricks of the castle wall)
  • then they write down the multiplication sentence and the answer.
  • you keep going until the sheet is full and you can then compute who covered more area.

You can download the game sheet and rules from our Resource Library.

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom3


M. is very good at fractions. More often than not he understands them better than I do. I “blame” it all on cuisenaire and the way they wired his brain over the years of using them.

You can see below examples of a lesson we saw on educationunboxed and applied it ourselves.

Shop for manipulatives

We are using a couple of more manipulatives to complement our Cuisenaire Rods set: Base 10 Blocks (they allow you to continue the learning of bigger numbers- into thousands), Number Rod Track (it was useful at first, for showing place value, partitioning, multiplication and division).

Cuisenaire Rods

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom22 1

Base 10 Blocks

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom24

Number Rod Track

Cuisenaire Rods manipulatives for math by monkeyandmom12


We use Math in Focus as our main math program and Cuisenaire Rods work perfectly with it.

Cuisenaire also work with Singapore Math and Math Mammoth.

If you want something specifically created with Cuisenaire Rods in mind, check Miquon Math. It’s a different way of approaching math concepts and I love their workbooks. I just let M. work as he pleases through these.

You could also go to the source of it all, and buy Caleb Gattengno’s Textbooks. We just started using them and I am sorry I didn’t discover them sooner.

Virtual Cuisenaire Rods

If you want to try out the Cuisenaire Rods before investing in a physical kit, you can check out the links below for virtual manipulatives:

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Blogs and Websites to Follow

Video Lessons

Cuisenaire Worksheets and Printables

Dragon Box App

One of our favorite apps to learn about Cuisenaire Rods is Numbers by Dragonbox.

Screenshot 2020 08 08 at 17.23.45 1

The journey continues with their other apps which you can see here. We own them all and love them.

M. made a video showing you how he plays with the Dragonbox App.

Cuisenaire Rods Resources

I created a mini bundle for you to get started with these wonderful manipulatives which you can get by subscribing below:


How do you use Cuisenaire? What are your favorite resources for these wonderful rods? Let me know in the comments below, I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems.

best tools for homeschool

This post may contain affiliate links. By making a purchase through these links, I get a small percentage for the item you bought while the price stays the same for you. Thank you for supporting me.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Read my Disclosure to find out more about how I support my website and how you can help.

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    1. Hi Deneicia,

      Thank you. I am glad it helped. You just need to subscribe to the newsletter on the homepage and you will get a password to access the Resource Library. Sorry, I am still figuring out this whole blogging thing. I should have specified it on every page where I mentioned the Resource Library.

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