Product review: Sumblox and Montessori

Sumblox and Montessori

I recently tried the Sumblox with my two children.

As they are 6 and 10, they are obviously well able to count and to carry on many mathematical operations.

What I wanted to know about this material, it’s how well it can fit with the Montessori system and the EYFS.

But first, what are the Sumblox?

Sumblox are a set of wooden blocks shaped in the numerals 1-10. Each block is proportional in size to the value of the number. So a 2 block is twice as tall as a 1 block and a 10 block is ten times as tall.

By manipulating the blocks and stacking them in different combinations, children can learn to recognize numerals, explore addition and subtraction and practice basic multiplication, division, and fractions.

Children can see patterns in numbers easily and gain a better understanding of the relationships between numbers. They can see how numbers change in predictable patterns by the differing heights of the block towers.

According to the manufacturer, Sumblox teaches the following concepts:

What mathematical concepts can SumBlox teach? Students can learn a wealth of information through play and hands-on exploration. These topics include:

Number Sense

  • Number recognition
  • One-to-one correspondence
  • Compare numbers
  • Subitizing
  • Counting
  • Cardinality
  • Number sequence
  • Hierarchical Inclusion
  • Understanding our base-ten system
  • Place value
  • Measuring Lengths
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • Understand Equivalence
  • Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common
  • Algebraic Thinking
  • Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight
  • Classify objects into given categories

Addition / Subtraction

  • Solve Addition and Subtraction word problems using objects
  • Compose and decompose numbers
  • Find missing addends
  • Skip counting

Multiplication / Division

  • Define multiplication; emphasis on multiples
  • Find factors of whole numbers and use commutative property of multiplication
  • Classify whole numbers (greater than one) as prime or composite
  • Draw conclusions about the factors of a whole number
  • Use associative property of multiplication
  • Use distributive property of multiplication

Fractions / Adding Fractions

  • Define denominator of fractions
  • Define numerator of fractions within halves, fourths, and eights
  • Find equivalent fractions within thirds, sixths, ninths, and twelfths
  • Compare two fractions using inequality symbols
  • Compare and order three fractions using compound inequalities
  • Find the value of a fraction of a whole number
  • Find the fraction, or part, a given value is of a whole value
  • Add two fractions with the same denominator to get a sum up to one whole and fully decompose a given fraction
  • Add two fraction addends with the same denominator to get a sum greater than one whole
  • Add multiple fraction addends to find sums greater than one whole and represent sums in improper form and mixed numbers
  • Add two fraction addends with different denominators (only having to scale one of the addends)
  • Add three fraction addends with different denominators (only having to scale two of the addends)
  • Add two fractions addends with different denominators (having to scale all addends to find a common denominator)

I haven’t explored all these possibilities with my children!

Watch how we played with the Sumblox!

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Now, let me briefly explain to you what is the EYFS:

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets standards for the learning, development, and care of children from birth to 5 years old. All schools and Ofsted-registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries, and school reception classes.

The Early Year Foundation stage states that we should introduce the children to numeracy among other areas of learning.

Recognising numerals and associating quantities to the symbols start to occur anytime between 30 to 50 months. The guide “Development matters” is a resource that supports the work of Early Years practitioners in England. This is a document that shows how the four themes of the EYFS work together for children. Development Matters can help practitioners to support children’s learning and development through planning, observation, and assessment.

The guide also includes various ideas for practitioners to support the child’s learning. For example, it is advised to provide number labels and to create opportunities to count.

What about Montessori?

The Montessori curriculum introduces numbers and quantities in a hands-on way. To introduce numerals and quantities, Montessori teachers use various specific materials.

We first use the red rods, 10 rods of increasing length from 10 centimeters to 1 meter, that the child must order from the shortest to the longest.

When the child is familiar with that material, we introduce the number rods.

These rods are like the red ones, but they are painted in red and blue section. The smaller rod is red and represents “one”, the second red is 20 centimeters and represent “two”, the third rod has three section and is the number 3 and so on until the longest rod that represents 10.

The third activity is the association of written numerals, that the child has learned to recognize by touch, with the blue and red rods. So, the child associates each rod with a numeral.


We also use loose quantities that are associated with the written symbol. That activity is called cards and counters. Later, you will introduce the short bead stairs and the Seguin boards to introduce the children to numerals and quantities over 10.

So how does it compare to the Sumblox?

I state here the qualities and aims of the Montessori materials and how the Sumblox are similar or not

  • All the Montessori material are made of natural material and explore one concept at a time.

I really like that the Sumblox are made of wood and are aesthetic.

There are no colour or illustrations that could distract the child from the main aim of the material.

In that sense, Montessori and the Sumblox are very similar.

  • The Montessori material allows the child to progress through the mathematical concepts.

First, the child starts to recognize fixed quantities: the number 10 rod is longer than the number one rod. Later, he will associate numeral with fixed quantities. And when he is ready, he will associate loose quantities, such as coins with the numerals. This is the most complicated aspect for a young child.

In my opinion, the Sumblox do all of this in one go.

The blocs are shaped like a numeral but differ in sizes. So, at the same time, the child is encouraged to recognize the numeral and to understand that 1 is smaller than 10.

It is possible to associate loose quantities for each number bloc.

In this case, we associate the number 1 bloc to each numeral, adding more bloc for each number.

It was pretty clear for my children that we needed a certain amount of blocs to equal the corresponding number.

On its own, the Sumblox allow the children to build and to understand that the numbers are different in size.

But I would make sure the children have opportunities to count various loose quantities too in other ways.

I would also ensure that they have opportunities to recognize other written numerals. I think using another material to recognize the numerals first would be beneficial. Then associate the written numerals of your choice with the blocs.

As the Sumblox needed to be shaped in a certain way to be used as blocs, they may appear odd to some purists.

What my children have enjoyed the most was to do skip counting, seeing the numerals lining up in order was very appealing for them.



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They were also able to make various operations by themselves. My 10 years old who hates maths was very attracted to the Sumblox and enjoyed them the most.

It is also an open-ended resource that can be used in various ways and combined with other toys and materials.

My children have also enjoyed building with the blocs with no aims in mind.

I can see that the Sumblox set would be a long lasting resource if your children use them from aged 3 to 12 years old.

It would be great in addition or combination with other materials either in the classroom, for homeschooling families or in the home.

I tried a set kindly shared by Yes bebe which are the official distributor of Sumblox in the UK.


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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.