As a grandparent I have so much fun playing with my grandchildren in a way that I do not remember doing so with my own children. Maybe this is because I approach play from a perspective of observing and wondering much like my work in classrooms. I think being less “rushed” has something to do with this as well! I am very interested in seeing what they do with the materials they have and I am much more aware of the opportunities to “mathematize” their learning in a very authentic way. Young children naturally engage in mathematics in their world. With a variety of accessible materials they build, measure and create patterns.
A couple of weeks ago I was babysitting and Charlotte brought out the puzzle squares. Both she and Nathan started to build an open box for some of their treasures. I accepted the invitation to get down on the floor to play. They think that I like to play and are quite unaware that I am conducting research shhhh! Before too long without any intervention from me they started to create different structures and this is where I intervened with my observation that they were creating three-dimensional shapes. Nathan who was building a cube at the time asked, “What is a three-dimensional shape”? He already knew the names of shapes such as squares, triangles etc. so I was able to explain that a square is a two-dimensional shape and that when he put the six of them together he was making a cube which is three-dimensional. We also talked a bit about the two-dimensional shapes that make up the triangular prism that Charlotte was making. Did I plan to teach a geometry lesson that evening? No, but when the opportunity arose I very naturally introduced something in response to my observations of what they had chosen to do. I was “mathematizing” their play and capitalizing on their curiosity. This to me is an example of “play-based” learning. Will Nathan and Charlotte remember everything we talked about? Not likely, but a seed has been planted and they will hear that math vocabulary again in the school setting and have many more opportunities to explore geometry and spatial sense concepts through their work and play.