Friday, June 15, 2018

Blocks + Clean Up = Math

This week's blog is a learning story submitted by an early childhood educator in the Chicago area!

Blocks equal a mess but clean up time in a wonderful opportunity for a math lesson. It isn’t just basic shapes, sorting or counting but the opportunity to compose and decompose shapes. The block area allows hands on connections to the learning about numbers and shapes.  
This is the ideal way to have our block put away. It is important for the shelves be labeled with the shape which helps with identification. You can also include the word with the shape to help build vocabulary and word identification. 

So several years ago I had a student named Harry. Harry loved the block area and if he had a choice this would be the only area he would play in. Harry even loved to clean up the block area, he took his time but he did the job. The squares went in the square section, triangles, spheres and rectangles all in the right sections. Until one day I looked at the shelf…

I found triangles in the square section, small rectangles in the big rectangle section and yes you guessed it squares in the long rectangle section. I looked at Harry and asked “what is going on?” Harry response was, “I’m cleaning up!”  Harry you have triangles in the square section and the small rectangles in the big rectangle spot. Please fix this mess.”

STOP! This was a teachable moment. At that moment I could of asked him about his decision to clean up this way

The next day I watched him clean up the blocks his way again. So I asked, “tell me what you are doing?” The answer was simple, “I’m making the shapes for that section”  I could see what he was doing but it certainly was not “the right way”. I let him continue cleaning up the blocks his way but was still frustrated, I was worried about the other kids and would this lead to a big mess? Before Harry went home that day I asked him if we could talk about the block area, he didn’t understand why I was frustrated. The last thing I wanted to do was tell a child that he was wrong because in my heart I loved the thought he put into this process. I shared my concern about the rest of the class and how they would learn how to clean up the blocks. Harry simply stated, “I will teach them”.

Now here is were the math language comes in.
1 triangle + 1 triangle = 1 Square
2 halves = 1 whole

In the end Harry and his classmates continued to build wonderful structures. I took the time to sit and play in the block area and demonstrate the use of math language. In the end it didn’t make clean up time challenging but an opportunity to learn. As teachers we need to remember to step back, listen to the children and let them lead their learning. 

Today Harry is in college studying Engineering!

Post Author: 

Deborah Dorfman has been in the field of Early Childhood Education for the past 25 years. For the past 11 years she has been an adjunct lecturer in Child Development at Purdue Northwest and the City Colleges of Chicago. For 15 years she taught in an early child care center here in the Chicago land area. Deborah received her Master's in Child Development from Erikson Institute in 2002 and a B.A. in Education from Antioch College in Ohio. She has been a presenter at the C.A.E.Y.C. Opening Minds Conference and has conducted professional development workshops for Geminis Head Start Program and Catherine Cook School of Chicago in Block Play. When she is not in a classroom you can find her walking or riding a bike along the Chicago lakefront. Deborah's philosophy is simple, children learn through play!

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