“Play is the Answer to how Anything New Comes About” – Piaget

Play is the Answer

As the early math team moves forward on the work we are doing, the concept of practicality is an issue we are addressing. One-on-one interviews with the children have taught us a wealth of information about young children’s mathematics, but it is not a realistic structure that early childhood teachers have time to do in a normal day. As we formulate what translation of the research to teachers will look like, we need to think seriously about the teacher’s perspective.

Small groups is a structure used by many educators of young children and it seems like a current daily component we can make productive use of with mathematical opportunities. We also must consider the children’s attention spans. To do so we have delved into the world of learning through play. Studies we have read indicate that purposeful play can “prompt children’s thinking about number or engage them in communicating about math [in ways that] enhance early math performance” (Smith, Swaminathan, Liu 2015). With this in mind, we began to look at center activities and at ways we can integrate rich research based opportunities.

One interesting research study that caught our attention discussed the potential of linear board games. “The results showed that a number board game when played in small groups with paraprofessionals from the classrooms can promote the numerical knowledge of young children” (Ramani, Hitti, Siegler 2012). We set out to develop a linear board game that embedded the many aspects of research we have studied. With that foundation, let me introduce our first prototype – “Frog Splash.”

Frog-Splash Board Game

This is a two-player game where the goal is to reach the middle deep pool of the pond. Players began on opposite sides of the deep pool, take turns rolling the die, and move their frog game piece the corresponding number of lily pads. There are multi-level goals that we are targeting here for a variety of students levels. These goals are associated with a child’s number sequence and proficiency with counting. You will also notice the die which has been designed with the values 1, 2, and 3.

Die with die patterns and finger patterns

These values are displayed with both dice patterns and finger patterns.  We chose to do this based on research that the “ perception of composite figural patterns plays an even more fundamental role as an essential building block in the genesis of the concept of number” (Von Glaserfeld, 1982).  We also used the set of criteria below developed by Kamii in a her book, “Group Games in Early Education” (Kamii, 1996).

  1. Suggest something interesting and challenging for children to figure out how to do.
  2. Make it possible for children themselves to judge their success.
  3. Permit all players to participate actively throughout the game.

With all of these pieces fitting theoretically together we set off to put this center activity and others into the reality of the preschool day. Just like any engineer, we foresee more iterations of our prototype, but we welcome the final outcome and what it can mean for the mathematical learning of young children.

Leave a reply