They were created by a Belgian primary school teacher, Georges Cuisenaire, but were made popular by the educator Caleb Gattegno in the 1950s. John Holt saw Gattegno in action and used the rods himself extensively (although he found that using them in the prescribed way did not really help his "problem" students understand numbers any better...).
|These are the ones we have, but the wooden version|
So what are they? Ten coloured rods each representing a number, so 1 is the white cube, 2 is the red rod as long as 2 whites, and so on. If you have a structured approach, there are many many manuals and ideas on how to use them (the rods we bought came with a list of activities). If, like us, you are autonomous, the rods can just be left on a table or a shelf for the children to pick up and make sense of, my two year old makes very long rows of them or likes to sort them into colour/length.
Another way we use them is when my eldest is trying to work something out and gets stuck, if he asks for help we get the rods out and work out the problem "hands on".
For example: he was trying to do some sums on the ipad today and was having trouble so we pulled out the white (number 1) cubes, 9-3=6 suddenly became much clearer (line up nine white cubes and take three away, how many are left?) and the next step will be to replace the nine white cubes with one black one which is just as long (the 9 rod), use the 3 rod and the 6 rod to show the result without having to count the units one by one.
|More Maths ideas|