Getting Started With Miquon Math

Miquon in action

I thought I’d share some of our lessons learned with Miquon here, hoping that they might help someone else who is launching it with their students. Because Miquon is so difficult to define (is it a program? an approach? a methodology?), I’ll begin by sharing how we’ve come to understand Miquon in our home.

What is Miquon Math?

I think of Miquon as an individualized program or as a methodology — either concept fits. Initiated in the 1960s for children from Gr. 1 to Gr. 3, Miquon aims to develop a strong understanding of fundamental mathematics. It emphasizes concrete math first, so children spend a lot of time working with manipulatives. (Cusenaire rods are the staple manipulative of the program.) It also seeks to foster a “lab approach” to math, where children ask their own math questions and test them out. This means that students end up creating a highly individualized program where they are directing a large part of their learning.

Student books are assigned colours rather than grade levels. Orange and Red roughly correspond to Gr. 1; Blue and Green to Gr. 2; and Yellow and Purple to Gr. 3.

The pages in student books have a homemade look to them. This was done intentionally to encourage instructors to make more of their own lab sheets for their students. Because the books are simple, instructors don’t feel pressured to create slick supplementary worksheets.

Miquon sample page

The pages have a simple, homemade look to them.

Before You Start: Recommended Reads

I’d recommend reading Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics before beginning Miquon (or any other math program, for that matter). That, more than any other book, has helped me re-think how I understand fundamental mathematics and how I would like my children to learn math. Since reading it, I’ve been better able to work with the Miquon approach and flex it to suit my students.

I’d also suggest that you read Miquon’s First Grade Diary. This isn’t a typical teacher’s manual with lesson plans. Rather, it’s a story of how an intstructor used the methodology to create customized learning for the students in her class. I find I refer to it regularly to get ideas for introducing concepts to my girls.

Before You Start: What To Buy

The Lab Sheet Annotations are extremely helpful for the instructor. They give recommended lead-in activities to labs, plus samples of completed answers.

If you can, get all 6 student workbooks at once; if not, get at least the first two (orange and red). Students are expected to start at the orange level on any given math topic (for example, addition). Once they’ve done the orange-level lab pages on that topic, they could then decide to go to a different orange-level topic (such as subtraction), or move on to the addition labs in the red level. In summary: students will hop around the workbooks, and it’s easier to accomodate that if you’ve got at least a few workbooks handy for them.

Cuisenaire rods are a must. Get the small group set with about 155 rods. (I found the 74-rod introductory set way too small to work with even one child, let alone two.) I now have a small group set for each child.The plastic rods are actually better quality than the wooden ones, which surprised me. (I have both here. Don’t ask.) Avoid the connecting cuisenaire rods.

You may find it helpful to have a Base 10 set, but it’s not at all necessary.

If your student is not yet in Gr. 1, then the free Cuisenaire Discovery Book will be a wonderful way to start.

Start Without the Lab Sheets

With some false starts, the following steps seemed to give us the best progression into using the lab sheets. Take as many periods on each step as needed. A 4 year-old will probably need to spend a couple of periods on each step, while a 6 year-old may easily complete a step or more in a single period.

Step 1: No matter the age or level of your student, the first period or more should be spent playing with the rods. Just dump them out and start playing.

Step 2: Play with the rods for a few minutes. Then ask if your students can build a staircase starting with the smallest rod and going to the largest one. Once it’s done, you may want to help students discover that each step is equivalent to one white rod.

Step 3: Play with the rods. Make a staircase. Then ask questions to help students discover that all of the light green rods are the same length; all of the red rods are the same; etc. (For example, “Put two green rods side by side. Are they the same length? Do you think that two red rods are the same length? Can you proove it?”)

Step 4: Play. Make a staircase. Help your students discover how many white rods make up each coloured rod.

Step 5: Play. Make a staircase. Distribute number cards. Have students match the number cards with the correct rods in their staircases. Practice counting with the rods and the number cards, forwards and backwards.

Matching rods to numbers

Get Ready to Use the Lab Sheets

Flip through the appropriate book for your student and rip out 6 – 10 pages that you think are at her level or just beyond. Put them in a folder; she will choose sheets from this folder during the math lab. (Alternatively you can have your student flip through the book to select pages to work on, but I found that with my young students, that took way too much time.)

Glance at the Lab Annotations for the sheets that are in her folder. Flip through The First Grade Diary to get ideas for presenting a relevant math topic or puzzle.

Start Your Miquon Labs

A typical Miquon lab period in our home look something like this …

  • Warm-up: We count to 100, count by 2s, count backwards — whatever strikes our fancy that day.
  • Lesson: I deliver a lesson based on the First Grade Diary lessons, and designed to introduce ideas that are coming up in their main math program. Lessons usually last about 3 – 5 minutes and involve my students working with the cuisenaire rods along with me.
  • Puzzle: This is really part of the lesson. I try to set up a puzzle for us to solve together, again drawing heavily on the ideas from the First Grade Diary. For example, “If I put three yellow rods side by side, is there a different colour of rods that we could put on top of them to cover the same area?”
  • Lab: I hand the girls their lab folders, and they pick a sheet that interests them. Usually there’s some discussion about how to do it, and an impromptu lesson may need to be delivered. Initially the girls, who weren’t comfortable writing their numbers, could either use rods or number cards to show their answers.
Charlotte proud of Miquon

Students who aren't writing numbers consistently can use rods to show their answers.

Enjoy the Adventure

After the first couple of weeks, I saw how individualized Miquon was for each of my students. Lab days do have an adventurous feel to them, as I don’t really know what questions to expect (“Mom, what’s a polygon?”) or what topics will appeal to them. (Lately Tasha has been all about fractions.) It is a favourite time of the week, however, and I can see the girls transferring concepts from our labs to other areas.

Miquon has been a great discovery for our home.


For my fellow Canadians, you can find Miquon at The Learning House.


  1. Sara says

    Thanks so much for this post. What great timing. I have the teacher materials for Miquon and just ordered the cuisenaire rods (wood – oops) and the orange and red books. Looking forward to doing it with the boys as part of our afterschooling on their off JK/SK days. I love the description of how you organize your labs.

    Thanks again.


  2. says

    Thanks for the kind words, Sara. And hey — the wooden rods are just great. In fact, my youngest prefers them to the plastic ones.

    Have fun with Miquon!

  3. says

    Julie, that’s great that you’re finding the Diary is worthwhile. I’m appreciating it more as I use it more. It’s just full of great ideas!

  4. Jeannine says

    I was using Horizons and found with one of my kids that I needed to take a step back and do something to help her look at math spatially and concretely. I ordered Notes to Teachers and the Annotations but was stuck on how to remediate…and how to start, period. Thanks for the suggestions to get the Diary, and how your mini-lessons are structured, tearing out sheets and then giving choices, etc. All super ideas that I will use. Thank you!!

  5. says

    Glad to have been of some help! I received lots of online advice from other parents when I started out with Miquon, and am just passing it along here.

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