What are Regaletas?  Cuisenaire Rods ? Réglettes?

Francesca, Age 6

Francesca, Age 6

Yesterday, I finally got to meet our daughter’s new teacher, Marie Tere.

Time has flown and Francesca is now in Primaria (aged 6 years old). This is the start of the compulsory stage of education in Spain.

Generally, at our school in Mijas, CEIP San Sebastian, we have a parents meeting at the beginning of every trimester. The aim of the meeting is for the teacher to explain the subjects and topics that are to be covered in the coming months and also to discuss the general progress of the students.

My first impression of Marie Tere was … “she smiles as she talks”!

I can see why Francesca is so happy with her. It was also very comforting to be told by other parents that Francesca seems so much happier at school this year. The tears are less frequent. The confidence is building … but, we know, the insecurity is still a big, scary monster in her beautiful, little head.

My second feeling was that of passion and enthusiasm.

Marie Tere oozed excitement as she talked about the topics they would be covering, the innovative methods that they would be using. The text books will take a back seat in all this. Interaction is the principal focus. Stimulating their young minds and encouraging a yearn for learning is the main goal. I was a happy bunny!

Then she started taking about Regaletas … what?

Thankfully, she sensed the confusion in the room and produced these …

Cuisenaire Rods

According to Wikipedia: Cuisenaire rods give students a hands-on elementary school way to learn elementary maths concepts, such as the four basic arithmetical operations and working with fractions.In the early 1950s, Caleb Gattegno popularised this set of coloured number rods created by the Belgian primary school teacher Georges Cuisenaire (1891-1976), who called the rods réglettes.

The educationalists Maria Montessori and Friedrich Fröbel had used rods to represent numbers, but it was Cuisenaire who introduced their use to teachers across the world from the 1950s onwards. He published a book on their use in 1952 called Les nombres en couleurs. Cuisenaire, a violin player, taught music as well as arithmetic in the primary school in Thuin. He wondered why children found it easy and enjoyable to pick up a tune and yet found mathematics neither easy nor enjoyable. These comparisons with music and its representation led Cuisenaire to experiment in 1931 with a set of ten rods sawn out of wood, with lengths from 1 cm to 10 cm. He painted each length of rod a different colour and began to use these in his teaching of arithmetic. The invention remained almost unknown outside the village of Thuin for about 23 years, until Gattegno came to visit him and observe lessons in 1953. With Gattegno’s help, the use of the rods for both mathematics and language teaching was developed and popularised in many countries around the world.

According to Gattegno, “Georges Cuisenaire showed in the early fifties that students who had been taught traditionally, and were rated ‘weak’, took huge strides when they shifted to using the (Cuisenaire) material. They became ‘very good’ at traditional arithmetic when they were allowed to manipulate the rods.”

Las Regletas de Cuisenaire (Cuisenaire rods) are basically mathematical material intended for children to learn the composition and decomposition of numbers and their introduction to computing activities , via manipulation . The material consists of a set of wooden blocks of ten sizes and colors. The length of the blocks ranges from 1 to 10 cm. Each block corresponds to a specific number :

  •  The white strip , of 1 cm  length represents the number 1.
  •   The red strip , of 2 cm .represents the number 2 .
  •   The light green strip of 3 cm  represents the number three .
  •   The pink strip of 4 cm  represents the number 4.
  •   The yellow strip of 5 cm represents the number 5 .
  •   The dark green strip of 6 cm represents the number 6.
  •   The black strip of 7 cm represents the number 7.
  •   The brown strip of 8 cm represents the number 8.
  •   The blue strip of 9 cm represents the number 9.
  •   The orange strip of 10 cm represents the number 10 .

At this point, I must admit to having a mix of emotions. All this talk of exciting and innovative teaching methods and then resorting to what we would probably call “counting blocks”. But I remain optimistic and look forward to learning and experimenting with this new (to myself!) method.

I left the classroom feeling happy and excited at this new stage in our daughter’s life in Spain. Every day she wakes up and is excited to go to school … I am very grateful and feel that we are making progress!

Onwards and upwards … Cuisenaire rods and all!


Do any of you have experience of learning with Cuisenaire rods? Was it successful? We’d love to hear any tips you have …


Here are some other useful links to show how Cuisenaire Rods can be used in teaching:

Junta de Andalucia teaching with regletas (in Spanish)

Learn Fractions with Cuisenaire Rods

Some Silent Way exercises for beginners using Cuisenaire rods





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