Self Directed Math Learning with Base Ten Blocks

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Can you unschool math? Sure you can, especially with base ten blocks and other manipulatives! My kids love math and love working with numbers, splitting up sets, multiplying (although I’m not sure if they understand what that word is), etc… A great deal of this enjoyment comes from unstructured work with base ten blocks. Base ten blocks are a set, or sets, of cubes, rods, flats and blocks that serve as a visual representation of our number system. They help kids to conceptualize the counting system.

My kids in particular love to build tall towers with the base ten blocks and then I encourage them to count the number of blocks they have used. In order to do this they can’t count individually (they could but it would take forever) so they learn to group and understand that the 100x100x100 block is equal to 1,000 cubes, that each 10x10x1 flat is equal to 100, each 10x1x1 rod is equal to 10 and each 1x1x1 cube is equal to 1. It’s wonderful to watch their thought process as they count up the sets and add them together. Through this process they’ve learned about sets, about multiplication (3 sets of 10 is 30) and it’s all been self-directed through play.

I spent 20 minutes the other day with base ten blocks when my 6-year-old decided to teach me how to divide using the base ten blocks. We used the individual blocks to represent people and the rest to represent apples. She gave me a set number of apples to lay out and then had me divide that amount among 8 “people”. We did that and they she told me that two people walked away and that their apples had to be split amongst the remaining 6 so we did that and so on and so on until one person had all the apples. It was great fun and she was engaged and learning the entire time.

As a parent, and especially as an unschooling parent, I truly believe that it’s my responsibility to make available to my children tons of learning opportunities. Having base ten blocks and other learning manipulatives around such as Unifix Cubes have really helped my kids naturally engage in and become interested in math.

Jennifer

Jennifer Pohlhaus is a busy working mother of two who, along with her husband, has chosen to unschool her children. She currently blogs about her experience with the challenges and fun of unschooling along with her love of crafting and cooking at HarmonicMama.com.

6 thoughts on “Self Directed Math Learning with Base Ten Blocks

  • October 31 at 5:47 pm
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    I loved this! Thanks for posting. And I am happy for the link the book on unschooling. I’m a huge proponent of education reform and progressive education in this country and while I can’t home school my son, I am exploring some Montessori options for him in a few years. I love that this is learning math through play…AND done in a way that isn’t a bunch of crap scribbled on a chalk or white board and stupid repetition. I may actually post a intro to this on my blog this week with a link to the full post.

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    • November 2 at 8:34 am
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      Thanks for the great write up! I’m so glad that this resonated with you.

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  • November 1 at 10:03 pm
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    This is fantastic! I teach Montessori and have the golden bead materials in the classroom but now that my 6 yr old is learning higher math facts but still needs more hands on manipulative’s and I never thought of using these! Thanks again!!

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    • November 7 at 9:31 pm
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      I’m glad! They really are great we “play games” with them all the time and they are really picking it up.

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  • August 8 at 8:38 pm
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    I had a similar thing (beads instead of cubes, with beads arranged on wires, flat grids, and 1000 bead cubes) in preschool. I credit it as the thing that got me learning about numbers early on. I learned basic algebra and exponents, as well as read science encyclopedias in elementary school. My second year of high school I was done with all the calculus they offered. It started me down the right path, the path of knowing that a 100x100x100 block is not equal to 1000 cubes.

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