Two Main Reasons Base Ten Blocks Are Hard to Implement And Why You Should Use Them Anyway

If there is one complaint about base ten blocks it is that they are hard to implement. Even though Ben from Crewton Ramone’s House of Math has placed over 700 videos on the internet, people still complain. Anna Tarnowski from Anna’s Math Page has written an excellent “How to Get Started” tutorial that you can find in my FB Group files section and yet about once a week someone will still post that they don’t know what to do. I have this great handy dandy Quick Start Guide on the right here. And even after reading it someone will say, “Hey, how do I get started with a _____?” You fill in the blank. Given that I hear this all the time, I have come to believe that base ten blocks are really hard to implement. The question is WHY? People even find Miquon Math hard. Hmmm. Something this going on. Clearly.

After hashing this out with people who are experiencing difficulty making base ten blocks work for their families, I’ve noticed a couple things. While this will not apply to everyone, it is clear that the very reasons that make base ten blocks hard are  the very reasons you should use them.

Why Base Ten Blocks Make Teaching Hard

  1. Base Ten Blocks Allow A Child See the Relationships in Math. It Makes Them Visually Obvious.   Math is the study of relationships. We want to compare some things to other things and we use mathematical language to describe those relationships. Sometimes we want to describe repeating parts that show up as patterns. Sometimes we notice patterns and make predictions about what will come next and why. Most parents were not taught math in this way. What Crewton Ramone’s House of Math claims is “Visually Obvious” is obviously not. It took me two or three posts on this blog for me to figure out that others don’t see what I see. Therefore, teaching using the blocks requires not only that we must teach math in a different way, we must think about it in a different way.
  2. Math. Math is one of those subjects that is hard to teach unless you understand it. That is probably why most of my homeschool friends have spent so much money on math curriculum. And then do it again mid-way through the year. And then again at the beginning of the following year. It doesn’t click with our children because it doesn’t really click with us. At some point, we settle for a curriculum and force our kids to do it because we don’t have a choice. They have to do the math. Our kids cry because that is what kids who learn math do and then we start over with the next child. This problem is exacerbated with base ten blocks as the whole concept of most base ten blocks systems is to allow the child to take the lead, either by directed discovery (taking into account the child’s needs) or by presenting a situation and letting the child figure out as much as he can. These methods only work if the person leading the child understands the big picture and can ask the right questions and gently guide the child.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just use a regular curriculum then? 


Ana Blocks

That is a happy math face.

I suppose that depends on your goals. If you desire is have your child pass a standardized test and just move along to the good stuff found in other subjects, then you can. I even suggest that you skip formal teaching of math till age 9 or so and just play math games in the meantime. I have seen some fairly compelling evidence that it doesn’t actually take that long to teach all of the elementary math topics. So why torture a child every school day for 4 years? Just play games and start formal math education in 5th or 6th grade. Kids who know about money will learn a lot of math on their own.


Why You Should Use Base Ten Blocks Anyway

But let’s say you do want your child to love math. And let’s say you want math to be a deep exploration of the beauty of numbers. Then you need base ten blocks. And you start at the beginning with your very own math notebook. And you learn right alongside your children. We will help you. My first suggestion: Get rid of the numbers. Turn your Mortco blocks sideways and start using letters that stand for colors. Small children don’t have to do calculations to do real math and your 6th grader will develop an intuitive understanding of algebra. And you will start to “see” the relationships. Don’t worry, it gets easier as time goes on. It is like a muscle that needs exercise. The only way to make base ten blocks work is to play with the blocks.

When I first started my husband would find me, late at night, sitting at the table playing blocks when I should have been in bed. I built walls and towers. I factored a lot of polynomials. And the math came alive.

If you have some gut instinct that math is more than just a bunch of unrelated parts then you have come to the right place. If you know that you want your children to discover the wild and crazy world of quantity then you have come to the right place. If you just want good test scores, this is probably not going work for you. This route is more work but it’s also way more fun.





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