Tag Archives: play

What’s the big deal with play?

  So I’m attending my annual conference and I finally have time to write. Sorry it’s been so long, though thankfully I have lots of renewed energy tonight so let’s talk about play.  It’s such a popular word in early education these days, but what are they all talking about?  Isn’t just about kids using toys? 

No it’s not, it’s much much more. It’s the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky.  It’s the method by which children are living their lives, their anchor, their work.  The definition of play in our field is usually described in a paragraph with so many terms and variations.  The common threads are enjoyment, participation and engagement.

Different types of play occur throughout a child’s development.  There’s no schedule or order, no wrong or right, though some patterns exist.  There are natural shifts in the kind of play as children’s environment, community, and minds take shape.

  • Solitary: a child plays alone
  • Parallel: a child plays alongside another child without interaction
  • Cooperative: children interact as they work toward a goal
  • Symbolic: a child uses one object to represent another
  • Sociodramatic: pretend play in which a child takes on a role
  • Games with rules: children follow guidelines dictated by an established game
  • Mature: a child will dive deeply into their play, staying with it for an extended period of time

Please keep in mind that each type of play serves a purpose, and has its own value.  For example, a child who pretends a ball is an apple will later be better equipped to visually represent quantity.  A child taking on a role is learning to self-regulate, practicing self-control.  

I’m interested in hearing what children say when asked, “what is play?” You probably wouldn’t hear words like problem-solving, achievement, creativity, imagination, identity, or persistence.  But if you observe carefully, you’ll see these qualities and more.  And they make for amazing adults; adults which will one day take care of us, our planet, and the children to come.  So next time you think play might just be a simple word with little meaning, think of all that is gained from it.

  
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Math: How to include more math in play

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I recently attended a workshop that focuses on integrating math into literacy and play. It was sponsored by Vermont’s Early Learning Initiative, and training was based on the new common core state standards and Mother Goose Cares About Math and Science, a VT Center for the Book program. see more about mother goose here.

1) math doesn’t always mean numbers and 1,2,3’s.

It can be shapes, patterns, and sounds, or even the events in a story. When a child hugs a big tree, stretching their arms around it, they’re doing math. Ask them how many more friends can hug the tree. Using a non-standard unit of measurement is still math. We can also nurture pattern observation by providing small items for sorting such as pompoms or wooden beads. Noticing various attributes is math. Offer an egg carton for sorting, ask the child to tell you about the shapes, colors, or other properties they notice.

2) kids love to be mathematicians and scientists.

Children respond to being trusted, valued, and heard. What better way to support this value than to gather predictions from the children and conduct experiments, and then chart the results. “How many shoes do we need to line up to get to the door?” Grab a large piece of paper and make a T chart. “How many of us have brown eyes? Blue?…” Create a pie chart illustrating the eye colors of the whole group. Charting is also a great opportunity to use words like more, less, near, far.

3) books and pictures don’t have to be about shapes or counting to provide opportunities for math learning.

A book about jungle animals can be just as valuable as a book on 1,2,3’s. Look for patterns or rhythms in the words (Dr. Seuss books are great for this). Clap your hands to the beat of the rhymes. Help the children identify the recurring characters on each page. They’ll learn to recognize shapes if they have practice, even if they’re not geometric shapes.

4) incorporate materials and routines that offer opportunity for math.

The children in my care set the table everyday. They count how many friends are here and identify the dishes we need. They practice 1 to 1 correspondence when placing one plate at each seat. We also count heads on our way out the door and on the way in. Offering materials such as dominoes, dice, small items for sorting, and measuring tools are helpful as well. As children learn what three dots look like, counting will become easier. Seeing standard tools of measurement will also prepare the children for their eventual use.

Most of these suggestions are geared toward preschool age children, but keep in mind that they are easily adapted to support many ages. And remember, just because they’re little, doesn’t mean that toddlers aren’t capable of learning math concepts. I have seen children as young as 18 months recognizing simple visual patterns, like seeing a dog on every page of a book.

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