The Spindle Box


A wooden box with ten compartments numbered 0 to 9 along the back and 45 wooden spindles.

Control of Error

There are 45 spindles.  The sum of the numbers 1 to 9 is 45, so there are exactly the right number of spindles for the exercise.  If a mistake is made, the child will find that he has either too few or too many spindles when he comes to the last compartment.  He can correct his work independently.


To see the numerals 0 to 9 in sequence.  To associate the corresponding quantities with the numerals.  To introduce the concept of zero.  With the number rods and tactile numerals, the sequence of numbers was indicated by the segmented rods and the numerals were loose.  In this exercise, the sequence of numbers is indicated on the box and the quantities are loose.


4 years and older


The teacher and child sit side by side at a table with the box in front of them.  The teacher invites the child to help her take the spindles out of the box and to lay them on the table in front of the box.

When this has been done, the teacher introduces the concept of zero.  She points to the symbol on the back of the box and tells the child, "This is called zero. This is the way we write zero."  She repeats the name several times.  She tells the child, "Zero means nothing, so we do not put anything in the zero compartment."  She says this while pointing to the compartment.  The teacher points to the numeral "1" and asks the child how much it is.  The child answers "One."  The teacher then asks him to put one spindle in that compartment.  The exercise continues in this way, until every compartment contains the correct number of spindles.  Once the child understands the exercise, he can continue working independently.  The chid can take the spindle box and do the exercise as often as he likes.
Occasionally a child has difficulty in accepting that zero is nothing and is apt to put some spindles in the zero compartment.  The teacher would need to give some further help.