I mention in my earlier post that I created a set of Place Value Mat that I use with my Base 10 Blocks. I also said that I made up a little story based on Max Lucado’s (christian) children books on the Wemmicks.

The Wemmicks are little wooden people created by Eli, a carpenter. They are quite lovable but they can be quite foolish too. They have a kind of herd instinct and like to be ‘In’. Hence, you read about these little people going through fashion fads like having colored noses or collecting dots from each other or collecting balls and boxes. They will try to outdo each other in being ahead in the fads. The main character in this series of books is a little Wemmick called Punchinello. Punchinello would get swept up by the latest fads and eventually get overwhelmed trying to keep up. In the end, he always goes back to Eli, his creator, who will set his thinking straight again.

My boys are familiar with the Wemmick stories, so when I explain using Wemmicks, they can catch on very easily and remember. First of all, I explain that there are 3 houses – Ones, Tens and Hundreds. Ones House is a small little house. Tens House is a big Mansion and Hundreds House is a huge building. Hopefully, by the time they learn up to 1000, they do not need such illustration anymore, so I did not create a Thousands House. 🙂 Then I explain that the little cubes are called Ones, the sticks are called Tens. I also tell them that the square slab is hundreds and the big cube is thousands. As I explain, I get them to count the squares on the stick to show them that each stick is made up of 10 cubes, and so on.

After they are familiar with the Houses and the Base 10 Block, I explain how it all works using the little story I created. Here’s how I explain place value using the Wemmicks story :

*The little square cubes (Ones) are like the Wemmicks. They are very silly little things. They love to be big and they want to move into the biggest house they can. But when they are Ones, they can only live in the Ones House because it is a small house and Ones are small. They can only move to the bigger Tens House if they managed to make themselves into a Ten. If there are ten little Wemmicks, they will immediately stack themselves together to make themselves into a Ten so that they can move into the Tens House. (Illustrate by stacking the little cubes into a stick of 10 and placing it in the Tens House.) *

*But the Tens House is not big enough! To be a really super Wemmick, you have to stay in the biggest house, which is the Hundreds House. In order to stay in the Hundreds House, the Tens have to wait until there are 10 of them in the Tens House so that they can stack again to turn themselves into a Hundred. (Illustrate by joining 10 sticks into a hundreds slab.)*

So at this point, the boys will understand that once there are 10 little cubes in the Ones House, the little ‘Wemmicks’ will eagerly hop on top of each other to stack themselves into a Ten, so that they can move into the Tens House. In this way, they learn “carry over” in addition.

What about “borrowing” in subtraction?

*Sometimes, Eli wants the Wemmicks to help him with some jobs. He will ask for, say, 8 Wemmicks, or 13 Wemmicks. He will first go to the Ones House because the Wemmicks in the Ones House are not all stacked up so it is easier to get them out. Let’s say there are 5 Wemmicks in the Ones House now. Eli comes asking for 4 Wemmicks. (Move 4 cubes out of the Ones House) How many Wemmicks are left in the house? (Kid can answer “1” easily.)*

*There are 15 Wemmicks. (Get kid to put the Wemmicks into the Houses.) *

At this point, I will make sure the kid automatically forms a Ten to put into the Tens House instead of squeezing 15 Ones into the Ones House. If the kid has problem with this part, I will go back and explain this again until it becomes second nature. So now there should be 1 stick in the Tens House and 5 Ones in the Ones House.

*Eli comes asking for 7 Wemmicks to help him make a boat. He goes to the Ones House first and find that there are only 5 Wemmicks inside. What should he do?*

Kid should understand by now that there are not enough Wemmicks in the Ones House. In other words, you cannot deduct 7 from 5. If kid cannot understand this part, then it is back to simple addition and subtraction within 10 using counters until the concept is very clear.

*There are more Wemmicks in the Tens House! Eli goes to the Tens House and ask the Ten to break up and move back into the Ones House so that he will have more Wemmicks he can get for help. So the Tens break up. (Illustrate by breaking up the stick into individual cubes.) They move back into the Ones House because only Tens can stay in the Tens House. So sad. (Yep! Dramatise!) Now there are 10 more Wemmicks in the Ones House. This means there are altogether 15 Wemmicks in the Ones House (count to show that there are 15). Eli takes 7 away to help him. How many Wemmicks are left? 8. Can the 8 make themselves into a 10 to go back to the Tens House? No. So the 8 Wemmicks, or Ones, have to stay in the Ones House now.*

This way, they learn the concept of “borrowing”, why they need to borrow and the actual process involved instead of simply learning the procedure and step of “*just cancel the ‘1’ on the left, put a small ‘1’ on the right; now you have ’15’. Can ’15’ minus 7? Yes.*”

Sometimes, I use number cards along with this place value mat. In other words, under the houses, I will put number cards that correspond with the number of cubes in the Houses. In other words, let’s say there are 2 tens in the Tens House. I will put the number card ‘2’ under the Tens House. Slowly, the kid will understand, for example, that the “2” in 126 has a value of “20” and it is not just a “2”.

I hope this gives you some idea how to use Base 10 Block to teach Place Value. Some kids may not need such illustration but some kids do need extra help like this. Making up story makes it easy to understand and makes the learning and the topic more interesting. They tend to remember better. My #2 is not the ‘maths kind of person’. He may have problem doing certain maths sums. The moment he puts his hands on the Base 10 Block and the mats, he usually will get it easily, sometimes even without me explaining to him anything. Sometimes, without taking out the manipulatives and just staring at the maths sums on paper, I just have to ask him ‘are there enough Wemmicks’ or something like that, something will ‘click’ for him and he will get it.

You can make up your own story and create your own version of the Place Value Mat. By all means, use something that is familiar to your child. Wemmicks work for mine because they are familiar with the story and understand the nature of the Wemmicks. This is infinitely more fun than to just draw 3 boxes and tell them for “126”, the left number goes to the left box, the middle number goes to the middle box and the right number goes to the right box.

If you are happy to use my Place Value Mat, you can download the file using the link below. Just print out, laminate and cut out to use. If you can’t think of your own story and want to use the Wemmicks tale, why not check out the actual books and have some Read-A-Loud time first? This way you and your kid will get to know the Wemmicks better and at the same time have some nice read and bond time. There are several titles :

Punchinello and The Most Marvelous Gift

These books are also available in the library.