How Base Ten Blocks Make Math Easy for Kids with Special Needs

For Miss C. , base ten blocks have made a huge difference in her ability to actually understand what numbers mean. She is operating at grade level or ahead in all areas except speech and physical capabilities. We want to keep her at grade level as she progresses through school. Playing blocks has meant she is operating at grade level or above in math.  How do the blocks help special needs kids?

• Having the blocks means that she can “see” what is happening with the math. As Ben Rogers from Cretwon Ramone’s House of Math likes to say, “The Math is visually obvious.”
• Control of Error We move a lot slower with Miss C. than the other kids, but we are not moving as slowly as the public school curriculum. She has not attached numbers to the blocks like P. has, so we have stayed with the Mortensen blocks. The tray that comes with the Mortensen blocks allows for self-correction. This means I don’t have to tell her she is wrong or didn’t do it right or that we have to spend 10 minutes fiddling trying to get the blocks to stay in alignment. She can self-correct. That means she is building her confidence level every time she plays blocks. This has the added benefit of removing a ton of frustration.

Miss C. Finding Equivalents

• Multisensory Experience If we have to rely on Miss C. memory to get her through school we are in trouble. Her short term memory is incredibly weak. This puts her at a huge disadvantage. Except, if we can rely on a multi-sensory experience with a new idea or concept, we have a much better chance of not just “remembering” the information, but hat she will understand and be engaged with it. With the blocks, she uses touch, sound, and sight. With sight and touch, she intuitively comes to understand the relationship between a 3 and a 7. She knows the length is different, the color is different and they feel different in her hands.
• Early introduction to algebra in a way she understands. Since we are using color and numbers to describe the blocks from the beginning we have removed much of the confusion from the beginning. Describing numbers or things with letters is just one of the ways we can approach something. We can just as easily use numbers. It looks a little different, but she would much rather use letters as there is no calculating involved.

She is making equivalents with the blue rod. Her patience for describing them is pretty short. We are still working on one block as it relates to another block. She can comfortably go between letters and numbers. She calculates rather slowly, so we don’t expect her to do many of them at a time. Other than moving slower and paying attention to her physical needs, we aren’t doing anything different with her. She doesn’t use the Cuisenaire Rods. She doesn’t for the reasons listed above. Plus, they are just too small for her to handle. She needs the bigger blocks and she needs the tray to assist her. We are looking forward to seeing where she is one year from now.