Earlier this month my colleagues and I had the privilege of attending the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference in Los Angeles. Professional learning is a wonderful opportunity where one can validate ideas, gain new insights, and network with others in the field. This was my first attendance at a preschool level conference and I was especially intrigued by the focus on learning through play. Yes, even mathematics can be learned through play. In other words, “the objects and events are not themselves mathematics, but they afford mathematical thinking” (Ginsburg, 2006). Many sessions at the conference gave participants an opportunity to engage with items in a playful way and reflect on the potential of such experiences for young children.
Shortly after I returned from the conference, a former student of mine asked for some recommendations on learning gifts for her daughter. My thoughts immediately went to the sessions I attended and the both new and well-known devices I encountered at the conference. As the holidays approach, perhaps you too are looking for that perfect gift for a young child. Here are a few options I would like to highlight:
- LEGO Education is one of the branches in the The LEGO Group. This organization designs kits specifically through research for educational purposes. Researchers agree that block play provides children with opportunities for early mathematics (Kamii et al., 2004; Ness and Farenga, 2007). The session I attended focused on the social and emotional aspect, but I would like to highlight a math kit offered by LEGO Education. The Math Train kit provides opportunities of counting, patterns, and simple addition and subtraction. Moments like these are enhanced with mathematical discourse among both peers and teacher/parent.
- Digit Widget is a balance device designed to provide opportunities to understand equality. The wooden blocks are marked with a variety of math representations for the assigned number and are crafted to have a specific weighted value. Through play, children can explore additive situations, mechanical advantage, and even algebra. In the play context children are free to experiment, investigate, and feed their curiosities.
- Pattern Block Puzzles provide opportunities for children to build spatial reasoning. These sets of puzzle frames use the standard pattern blocks familiar to most early educators. Unlike the familiar templates, the designer used these patterns in research to show that they uniquely provide a goal for children and increase engagement.
- Savvy Subitize cards were designed to increase subitizing ability in children. These cards offer several math games for children to play, giving opportunity to become fluent in figurative patterns and multiple math representations. You can also download these for free to make your own cards.
While these may not be on your little one’s wish list, they can provide opportunities in mathematics which we know are precious, especially in the first years of life. Perhaps this season you can give the gift of mathematics – priceless!