After the number rods teach that a single quantity is made up of different parts that are joined together, the spindle boxes take it one step further and break down the parts into actual separate pieces. It also gives the idea that symbols represent a certain amount of separate objects.
We begin counting with one, find one spindle, and put it in the box labeled 1. Then we keep counting. Each time we add a spindle, children actually begin to feel the increasing amount of objects. Nine feels way bigger than three.
When we get to the end we point out that we’ve missed a box (zero), but there are no spindles left. This is the fun part: We say that we actually don’t need any more spindles because this is ZERO, and Zero means NOTHING! It’s very exciting.
Here’s a short video of the spindle boxes in action: