How to Use Montessori Red Rods

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Montessori Red Rods

The Montessori Red Rods are a series of ten rods that increase in length by increments of 10 cm.

The Red Rods introduce the child to mathematical concepts like counting, length, the decimal system, and addition.

The basic presentation has the Red Rods placed from longest to shortest, like a stair.

What is the purpose of the Red Rods?

The purpose of the Montessori Red Rods is to help the child develop greater visual discrimination.

Why is visual discrimination important?

Visual discrimination is used for math, writing, reading, and everyday life.

Have you ever had someone ask you to give them an estimate on how far away one object is from another?

That’s an example of visual discrimination.

Child working with the Montessori Red Rods.
Montessori Red Rods help develop a child’s visual discrimination.

How do you present the Red Rods?

1) Show the child how to retrieve the Red Rods from the shelf or holder. Start with the shortest Red Rod. Make sure you point out that the shortest Red Rods can be carried with just one hand. (Likewise, show the child how you need to extend your arms to carry the longest Red Rods.)

2) Lay the Red Rods on a mat in random order.

3) Let the child know that you will be building a stair with them.

4) Compare the longest Red Rod to the others, then place it to the left of all the other rods.

5) Repeat this step with all the Red Rods until the stair is complete.

6) Randomly order the Red Rods and invite the child to try to make a stair.

7) When the child is through working with the Montessori Red Rods, show him how to return them to where they are kept.

8) Let the child know that they are now free to work with this material whenever they choose!

4 year old placing the Montessori Red Rods in order.
4 year old, Cash, working on placing the Montessori Red Rods in order.

What if the child makes a mistake when lining up the Red Rods?

The only control of error with the Montessori Red Rods activity is the child’s perception. This is unlike some other Montessori materials with built in control of error.

If the child lines up the Red Rods in the incorrect order, do not correct him.

Dr. Montessori believed that correcting a young child can damage their self-esteem. A child needs to be given the opportunity to discover their own errors. This simply takes practice working with the material.

Children are going to make mistakes, but when they are free to observe and correct their own mistakes, this leads to increased self-confidence.

Of course, with practice the child will learn to control their errors and master the activity. The mastery will be its own reward!

So, don’t correct and don’t praise. Let your child discover their own inner strength!


What other activities can be done with this material?

There are multiple extensions that can be done with the Red Rods.

The most popular extension is the maze. The cool thing about this extension is it becomes a lesson in balance and coordination, as well as constructing something as complicated as a maze.

There are other activities you can do with the Montessori Red Rods, as well.

The Montessori Red Rods can be constructed vertically, like a stair. (In fact, this material is sometimes referred to as the Long Stair.)

Montessori Red Rods

For younger children, or children not yet familiar with this material, only 4 or 5 Red Rods can be used, instead of all ten.


A fun and challenging stereognostic exercise can be preformed by placing a few Red Rods behind the child’s back and have them construct a small stair without looking.

Following your initial presentation of the Red Rods, the smallest rod can be held at the end of each level of the stair to demonstrate to the child the difference in length of each Red Rod.

Are the Red Rods a math material?

Montessori Long Red Rods are classified as a sensorial material. This, obviously, is due to the visual aspect of the Red Rods activities.

But the link between math concepts and many of the Montessori sensorial materials is quite clear.

The Red Rods have the child work with dimension, weight, patterns, and even prepare the child for future work with the decimal system.

Also, visual discrimination is essential for reading and writing!

Pretty neat for a series of 10 solid colored sticks!

DIY Red Rods

You can make this material on your own with some lumber, a table saw, and some red paint. Just be sure to be precise in your measurements. The Red Rods don’t just need to correspond to each other in measurement, but much of the other sensorial and math materials are measured in those same increments.

Our set of Red Rods was hand crafted by my husband in a matter of hours!

I hope you enjoy these activities as much we do!

What extensions do you enjoy with your Montessori Red Rods? There are plenty I didn’t list and many more that I’ve yet to discover!


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