Author Archives: Elizabeth Gamino

It’s More Than Child’s Play

Two weeks ago, my colleague, Jaclyn and I had the opportunity to attend and present at CAAEYC’s Annual Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA. I was fortunate to have the honor of being a featured presenter and speak to Learning Mathematics through Play.

As the title suggests we talked about the mathematical concepts that can be taught via play: free play, guided play and teacher directed, with the majority of our time together spent on guided play, where children take the lead but adults support their exploration.

I choose this topic because of the push on academics that I’ve seen in many preschool classrooms. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek shared that “time spent on play has diminished, so much so that in the last two decades, children have lost 8 hours of free-play time per week”.  That means that our littles are only receiving just over 1 hour per day purely devoted to free-play time. As a child, I remember spending most of my time outside playing with and creating things from boxes from the furniture store down the way, pretending to be Diana Ross and sing “Stop in The Name of Love” on the strip of sidewalk that divided our homes. With each passing decade since I was a kid, there has been a rapid decline in time spent on playtime.

So why guided play? Weisberg, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff & McCandlis (2014) state:

  • It respects children’s autonomy and their pride in discovery
  • Cultivates children’s love of learning
  • It shapes not only the desired outcomes in learning but also a more positive attitude towards learning

These three traits were what I sought my presentation to evoke.  My presentation was sprinkled with research, video of our classroom experiences, and opportunities for participants to engage in (adult) play activities. I sought to make my audience feel the joy of working in collaboration, to problem solve, to be innovative, to practice self-regulation skills, to engage in conversation, to communicate their strategies, successes and failures, and to develop perseverance.

I have to say my session was a success, not because of me but because of all the participants in the room.

Below are examples of two tasks that attendees got to partake in and how they can be adapted for children.

Task: Using 50 solo cups, create the tallest free-standing structure that you can.

Children can do this with fewer amounts of cups or blocks.

Task: Using no more than 10 popsicle sticks, two feet of yarn, and two feet of tape, create a cell phone holder that will support the weight of your phone and take a selfie.

Children can build a chair that must bear the weight of a small teddy bear counter or a bridge to support a toy car.


If you are interested in reviewing our presentations they can be found at


Math Awareness Month

Did you know that April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month? If not, you’re not alone. Much to my surprise, when I polled my friends, some of whom are math teachers, they didn’t know either. But they definitely knew about Read Across America Day on March 2nd. Why is that? Why is it that everything… Continue Reading

In Their Voice (Part 4)

Angelina Parades is the teacher of a 3-year-old class at Head Start in the Central Valley of California. She began her career in early learning education as a high school senior 11 years ago. She is dedicated to the parents and children whom she serves and is passionate about the work she does. Her dedication… Continue Reading

Changing the Narrative

Many times, we hear phrases from teachers and students such as “I am not good at math.” “Math was (is) a very hard subject for me.” It has become socially acceptable to say, “I hate math!” Why do some people have these limiting beliefs of themselves as doers or learners of mathematics? For the past… Continue Reading

The Gift of Play

“When you ask me what I did in school today and I say, ‘I just played,’ please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play.” – Anita Wadley, 1974. The… Continue Reading

Quotes to Spark Conversations

In early September AIMS had the honor of hosting a breakfast for the teachers we are working with this year. It was a time to come together, form friendships, share our goals for the year, and, of course, engage in some mathematics. As an ice-breaker we had the teachers engage in an activity called “Chalk… Continue Reading

Thinking About Children’s Thinking

Over the last month, for the start of the school year, my AIMS Center colleagues and I have had the privilege of working with teachers and observing the interactions of 3- and 4-year-old children, something our team has done for the last two years. As we observe these little ones, we have learned how to… Continue Reading

Tell Me How You Really Feel About Math

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting to over 300 early learning professionals on what is really becoming my passion, the idea of mathematizing children’s environments and making connections between the math they experience while at school and the math that they experience in their daily lives. Though I would love to… Continue Reading

I Wonder

As I write this blog on a hot, sultry day in July, I can’t help but wonder what my friends in education are doing during their final days of summer vacation. Are they relaxing by a pool? Are they at the beach? Are they vacationing somewhere in the United States or abroad? Are they attending… Continue Reading

Count Anything and Everything

A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and found myself counting the number of steps it had taken me to get from our office to the campus bookstore. After realizing what I had unconsciously done, I purposely counted my steps on my return trip to check for accuracy and, to my surprise, I… Continue Reading