Too Cool For School

When I was five, my favourite school equipment was Cuisinaire Rods. I built towers, stacked them in 3D blocks, and layed out Mondrianesque geometric mosaics across the desk.  I liked the way the colours stained the little wooden rods slightly unevenly, so each had subtle variations in depth of colour.  

The rods imbued each number with a distinct colour-and-size-driven personality.  I preferred four (cerise) and six (deep emerald green) and disliked seven (an insipid black, faded like an overwashed black T-shirt). 

Recently a friend of mine, who always gives the most brilliant gifts, gave me my very own fresh set of Cuisinaire Rods.  I envisaged sharing my childhood joys with my own children, but realised after several ‘white peas’  were eaten, that I’d got the timing wrong by a few years.  For now they are, in fact, the perfect adult desk toy for idle moments or long phone calls.  I’ll try again in a few years, if I can bear to share.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Picky on March 29, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I have been trying to buy rods for years – they don’t sell them in this country – for no apparent reason except that everyone in the whole wide world should have at least one set and I have no idea where mine are (probably long ago donated to charity). We do have one discrepancy. I learned that four was magenta. I remember that very well because Mrs Gaff insisted that it wasn’t pink and I had never heard that word before kindergarten. Cerise, however, is on a whole new level. Rods not only give numbers colour – they give them space and smell and sound. (Smell your rods – they’re nice and fresh and woody – a refreshing respite from the keyboard and computer screen and Little Einstein videos). Rods are also musical – when they bump each other they make a lovely noise. Rods teach you to add, subtract and multiply instinctively, AND you can use them to build things. I now have a task for my trip next month – a box of rods for each member of the next generation, and one or two for me.


    • Ahhhh, Picky, I’m happy with either magenta or cerise, so long as they aren’t described as pathetically pedestrian pink. And I know exactly what you mean about their musicality – we used to have corroborees using the teal nines and orange tens as rhythm sticks. You can buy Cuisenaire Rods at If you are feeling single minded, they even do bulk sets of a single colour.


      • Oh my god. I have just been transported back in time. I LOVED these things. But not teal my friend! Peacock blue silly girl!

      • Silly, silly me. Maybe the problem is I never had my colours done in the1980’s. I often lie awake at night wondering if I’m ‘Summer’ or ‘Autumn’. No wonder I don’t know my teal from my peacock.

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