Sometimes the greatest gems are found when you aren’t even looking for them. Two weeks ago, I attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Philadelphia, PA. I spent each day agog at the sheer quantity of amazing people, services, products, systems, and ideas designed for educators. As an early childhood person, it was equally mind-blowing to be around educational systems that have money, and are investing money in education. Oh, how I wish we could have an early childhood conference like that!
So, imagine my sheer delight when I found the least techie product imaginable, designed for young children.
The product is called Sumblox. These are handmade, wooden math manipulatives that harken back to the Froebel gifts and Montessori materials. The premise is quite simple; wooden blocks shaped like numerals that are sized to represent the quantity of the numeral.
Below, you can see that two “3” blocks are equal in size to one “6” block and three “2” blocks. Brilliant!
And here you can see that the “3” and “5” block are the same as the “8” block. So logical.
We have seen similar products in the past (think Cuisinaire© Rods). Ten units of “1” are sized to match one unit of “10”. However, these are so much better because they provide an additional logical dimension to the design. With Unifix Cubes or Cuisinaire Rods, children have to make the connection that each block represents “1”. With Sumbox, the number is there already.
I also appreciate that Sumbox is also a set of finely made wooden blocks. I could see putting these out on the manipulatives table for children to simply play with and build. I think it is important to remember that the greater goal of manipulatives is for children to play with them, handle them, and discover their attributes. The fact that they can also be used to compose and decompose number is an eventual use, but may not be the initial way young children use them. With exposure, children will begin to discover that they can build towers that are the same size, that the blocks are shaped like numbers, and there is greater mathematical purpose to them.
Sumbox comes in classroom packs and family packs. I have already sent this link out to my friends with young children since I think this would be a very good investment for a family. If I was still a child care director, I would purchase one set for each of my classrooms. That is how good I think this product is.