I got rid of our blocks the other day. I sent them over to my sister’s house so that they could clutter her space rather than mine. Oops. What I mean to say, really, is that I sent them over to her house so that her nearly one-year-old child could enjoy them as much as we have.

Luckily, those blocks are not far away and we can still play with them. Because here is what happened…

We visited the kids’ cousin and pulled out her “new” blocks. The 9-year-old and 5-year-old started to build a tower for the one-year-old to knock over. (The blocks are soft foam…brilliant.) I took advantage of the opportunity to lie down on a couch and rest. When I looked up again, I realized that mathy moments were happening.

The tower had become a castle, and the castle had some interesting features.

Look back up at that picture and notice the triangular rampart extending from the right. It’s made up of three other triangles. So cool! So mathy! *So what? * The “so what” is this…not only were the kids working *together* to create something, not only were they trying to do something *nice* for another person (Baby Cousin!), but in the process of trying to build, they had to construct stable shapes. They had some triangles to work with, and most of the time these end up being caps at the top of towers. This time they had found a way to connect 3 of them into a stable shape. Wow!

Huh? Perhaps you do not think this is as “wow” as I do? That’s okay. Just trust me on this. All this seemingly “little kid” play is the basis for curiosity, wonder, observation, and understanding. Today, while I rested on the couch, the kids did some important work with mathematical concepts…and family relationships.

(Mathematically…playing with physical objects lays the foundation for understanding abstract concepts later. High School level Geometry can trip up some kids because understanding and manipulating angles becomes a little more complicated when you’re drawing them and defining them as “formed by two rays sharing a common endpoint, called the vertex.” If you’ve been interacting with angles in your playtime, then this definition seems like a lot of words to explain a simple thing. If you haven’t been interacting with them in any meaningful way, then that definition is weird and wordy and reinforces your feeling that math just isn’t for you. As a parent, you could hope that your child’s high school teacher understands that manipulatives (in this case pattern blocks) can be a useful tool for deepening geometric understanding, but…well…they may not. So why not encourage lots of pattern play – big blocks, pattern puzzles, mosaic art, tessellations…anything that requires fitting geometric shapes together. Heck, you could even just have the kids help you lay down the new patio pavers or bathroom tile!)

So true. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes overlook the complex math happening during block play. My favorite example that I’ve noticed recently is that our students have started offsetting and counterbalancing blocks that aren’t flat to make super tall (and very wobbly) towers.

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That sounds wonderful to watch! Recently I used a long a block and a plank to make a balance board for a preschool class – and the children were building block structures on either side of the board trying to keep the whole thing in balance. It was fascinating to watch. Some figured out how to work the timing together, others changed the whole game and made it into a balance board for their bodies.

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Matchbox cars have always been a point of interest when it comes to balancing two sides of a fulcrum. They are all different sizes and weights, so it is almost impossible to find two that are equivalent weight. Talk about non-standard units of measurement!

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We do not lack for Matchbox cars in our home…I will try that!

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