
Cuisenaire NumberinColor Plan
A multisensory system of teaching basic number concepts that revolutionized mathematics instruction in kindergartens and elementary schools around the world. Introduced in 1952, by Belgian schoolteacher Georges Cuisenaire (1891–1976), the system uses sets of small, colored, onecentimeterdiameter dowels, or “rods,” to facilitate children’s understanding of mathematical concepts. Cuisenaire had studied both music and education as a young man and trained as a composer before becoming a teacher and, eventually, an elementary school principal. Convinced that children could enjoy learning mathematics as much as they enjoyed learning music with him, he first recognized that note recognition by young children was facilitated by their different shapes and by the hollowing out of whole notes and blacking in notes of smaller mathematical values. He decided to apply a similar principle to numbers, using dowels of different, but related, lengths, and assigning each a different color. In effect, he turned the learning of mathematics into play and, as a result, not only simplified it, but made it fun. He never patented or profited from his invention, although it is produced by a company that bears his name but has no relationship to him or his family. The colors serve two purposes: psychological and mathematical. Bright colors appeal to children and invite them to play, build and manipulate, uninhibitedly. At the same time, they unconsciously and invariably discover mathematical relationships. Now a basic teaching tool in every elementary school of minimal quality in the United States and every other advanced country, Cuisenaire Rods, as the NumberInColor Plan is usually called, come in 10 different lengths, in increments of one centimeter each, from 1 to 10 centimeters and colored, in order of length, white, red, light green, purple, yellow, dark green, black, brown, blue and orange. The coloring is not haphazard. The basic unit rod is white, for example, while the 7cm. rod, which belongs to no number “family,” is black. The 2, 4 and 8cm. rods are, respectively, the “hot colors,” red, purple and brown, while 3, 6, and 9 are “cool,” light green, dark green and blue. By attaching and detaching the rods to one another, children are actively engaged in “doing” and quickly “see” and “feel” the meanings of basic mathematical concepts such as “more than,” “less than,” “same as/equals” and rapidly move ahead to counting and simple mathematics involving addition and subtraction and fractions. Use of the rods creates lasting, clearly defined visual, muscular and tactile images for each number and its relationship to other numbers. Each number acquires and retains its individuality, and each number and combination of numbers is the result of each child’s own thought, own manipulations and own senses.

