Counting sticks are typically used in Waldorf classroom to practice skip counting and the multiplication table. They are easy to make and have many other uses as well…boys anyone!! My kids especially liked using them.
I made a set for my kids many years ago from a hardwood (maybe oak). I used dowels about 1/2″ in diameter and had them cut to 12″ giving me several sets from one 6′ dowel. The sound produced was beautiful and deep (compared to a lighter wood). Over the years, my set developed a beautiful patina. This year, I made several sets for a group of kids for one of our lessons in our unit study on the blind. For affordability, I went with a cheaper lighter alternative and chose maple. The result was a more hallow sound to the counting sticks when tapped against each other. I sanded down the cut edge and the counting sticks were ready to go.
A nice alternative would be to paint the sets of sticks for each child. We painted our maple sticks using Lyra watercolors from A Child’s Dream. They turned out really beautiful, and it would make each child’s set really special. You could even do one set for each number up to 12 to help students learn the multiplication table.