You can learn mathematics while also playing, especially in kindergarten classrooms.
A recent study found that teachers are increasingly under pressure to deliver academically focused activities in kindergarten, at the expense of free playtime. The study found that, on average, for every 30 minutes of free play, kindergartners are now engaged in two to three hours of lessons and test prep. However, the study also found that time spent learning foundational skills, especially in mathematics, and time spent playing don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Play to promote foundational math skills
Schools that implement the Common Core curriculum place an emphasis on teaching children mathematics skills through playtime activities. Two of the core focus areas are working with whole numbers and geometry. These skills provide a strong foundation for grades 1-3, when children will learn more complex mathematical concepts. Although many of these skills need to be directly taught by a teacher, playful activities give kids a chance to practice what they are learning.
The research has shown that playing a board game that involves numbers can help improve a preschool child’s understanding of numbers and their order. The game provides children with multiple opportunities to see numbers in order and to compare the sizes of different numbers.
Board games are a great way to get kids involved in learning math. They’re perfect for small groups or work in centers. We taught teacher’s assistants in Head Start classrooms how to play a linear number game with small groups of children. In a one hour training session, they were given the materials, rules and a script from which to explain the game. They also watched a video of children playing the game.
The board game mentioned in the text can be used to help children learn more about numbers. This is because the adults supervising the game can adapt the level of difficulty to match the children’s skill level. This makes the game effective for children of a range of abilities.
Incorporating math play
Despite the benefits of incorporating play in math lessons, it can be difficult for teachers to do this because of the pressure to cover a lot of ground during the short time allocated for mathematics. One way to increase the amount of play incorporated into early childhood math classes is to educate preservice teachers on the merits of using games that align with Common Core standards. This will give children the opportunity to build their foundational math skills.
For this assignment, you will need to develop a game that will help students gain math knowledge, with specific connections to the Common Core. The game should be able to be played in a small group or at a math center, and you will need to include the name of the game, the necessary materials, and directions. Your game should be creative, attractive, and engaging, covering a range of skills such as counting, identifying numerals, and arithmetic, as well as conceptual understanding in areas such as place value and numerical magnitude comparisons (i.e., greater than and less than comparisons).Students were then required to cover the corresponding numeral on a mat. They shouted, “Case solved!” when they had covered all of their numbers.
According to the text, children who lag behind their peers in terms of mathematics skills will continue to fall further behind as they grow older. In order to help close the gap between these children and their peers, we need to make use of methods that are most likely to lead to successful outcomes.
The importance of early mathematics development for later success means that we need pedagogical tools that support math learning from the earliest ages. Playful learning—which includes free play, guided play, and games—is a great way to support early learning in math because it is an evidence-based method that is effective in supporting math learning (as well as learning in other areas).
According to a study, early mathematics skills are a strong predictor of later achievement and success. However, across the globe, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills are rarely introduced adequately in early childhood. Children from lower-income communities experience even lower exposure to STEM related activities than do their middle-income peers—a fact that might account for the gaps in mathematics and spatial competencies present even in early childhood.
According to the science of learning, humans learn best when they are mentally active in discovering new knowledge, engaged, interacting with material in ways that are meaningful, and socially interactive. Playful learning incorporates all of these characteristics.
The researchers identified a total of 141 mathematics occurrences in the children’s play, finding that 50 percent were related to quantity, 19 percent to geometry, 14 percent to measurement, 7 percent to patterns, and 6 percent to spatial relations Both free and guided play, as well as games, can be classified as playful learning. Free play is when children are in charge of their own playing and make up their own rules – such as when they’re playing with friends or by themselves. Many children naturally incorporate mathematics into their free play, without being prompted to do so.A large variety of mathematics was included in this study, as well as how often children enjoyed participating in mathematical activities. Out of all the children, 88% participated in at least one mathematical activity in the 15 minutes.
Guided play is a type of play that is child-directed but with some adult scaffolding to help the child accomplish a specific learning goal. This is done by arranging the environment and steering the child’s attention to relevant aspects of the environment. For example, an adult can help a child learn about spatial rotation by asking questions about what happened when the child built a taller tower.
Another approach to playful learning is integrating content into games. This can motivate learners and help them retain academic content, like early mathematics skills learned through the Great Race board game.
Key Research Questions
The science of how children learn can be used by parents, teachers, and caregivers to create a strong foundation of mathematics knowledge through playful learning.
Recent Research Results
Several interventions designed to improve early childhood mathematics skills incorporate aspects of playful learning, with current research indicating that guided play is more successful than free play in this regard.
The Building Blocks curriculum for pre-K children uses games and other play activities to engage children in learning to count and do basic math operations. In one lesson, a teacher and children set up their dramatic play center as a store, with a selection of dinosaur toys. The students play shopkeeper and collect money (cards with different numbers of dots to represent dollars) in exchange for the dinosaurs. By counting the number of toys to match the dots on the cards, children practice their counting skills and simple arithmetic while engaging in pretend play. Studies have shown that children from disadvantaged backgrounds who received the Building Blocks curriculum improved their early mathematics knowledge more than children in a comparison group using their regular mathematics curriculum.
Ramani and Siegler found that when low-income children played the Great Race Game with an adult for four 15- to 20-minute sessions within a 2-week period, they showed increases in knowledge of numerical magnitude comparison, number line estimation, counting, and numeral identification. The gains remained even 9 weeks later.
Finally, in spatial learning (an area closely connected to mathematics), it was found that guided play promoted children’s learning about the features of geometric shapes better than didactic instruction or free play. Guided play led to the greatest amount of transfer of shape knowledge to atypical shapes.
Children are given a lead role in playful learning, with adults providing guidance to ensure they focus on the relevant aspects of the material. The term “mise en place” is borrowed from the culinary arts and describes laying out the necessary high quality ingredients before the cooking even starts. Children can then generate hypotheses about an end goal within such a constrained space.
Recommendations for teachers
How can teachers bring more playful math activities into their classrooms? We outline five suggestions:
#1. Seek out playful curricula.
Other than individual play activities, there are also more comprehensive curricula that have shown to have positive effects in improving mathematical knowledge for preschoolers and kindergartners. Many of these programs integrate informal learning activities and play with direct classroom instruction. An example of one such curriculum is Building Blocks (Clements & Sarama, 2008) which includes classroom activities, small group activities, and computer games. Research suggests that preschoolers given the Building Blocks curriculum made much greater progress than a control group in numeracy, geometry, measurement, and recognition of patterns. Some other playful curricula to consider are Number Worlds (Griffin, 2004) and Big Math Little Kids (Greenes, Ginsburg, & Balfanz, 2004).
#2. Think outside the (game) box.
As mentioned earlier, games are a great way for kids to learn and practice new math skills. You don’t necessarily have to come up with new games, many classic board games and card games can be played in a way that emphasizes the Common Core math standards. For example, in the game Candyland, instead of using the colored cards, have the kids roll dice to move their token around the board. This will help them learn to count and understand the relationship between numbers and quantities.
children can improve their counting skills by playing with pretend money, their spatial skills by putting together puzzles, and their geometry skills by building with blocks.
What happens in math class can be taken outside of math class.
-There is no reason that math activities have to be limited to the time that is set aside for focusing on math during the school day. -Teachers can encourage math talk and mathematical thinking during play as well as during lessons in other domains. -Children are more likely to want to participate in math activities when they see that it’s meaningful for what they are engaged in. -One way to elicit math and number talk is to add extra materials to existing activities and centers during free play. -For example, when setting up a pretend grocery store, include items such as a balance scale and price tags to put on the food.The popular book Caps for Sale could be used to extend a math lesson on money by discussing the values of the hats, or a lesson about sorting and creating graphs based on the characteristics of the hats.
#4. Peers are a valuable resource.
While playing games or during free play, children are also exposed to math concepts through their interactions with classmates. Teachers can encourage this by identifying cooperative activities where there is motivation for children to think and talk about math, such as asking students to figure out how to equally allocate supplies for an art project among all children at a table. Teachers can also be mindful about pairing students: If you observe some children who tend to engage in more math talk or demonstrate more advanced math skills, pairing them with children who are less advanced in their mathematical understanding gives a less-advanced child an opportunity to learn through observations and interactions with a more advanced partner.
Parents should be engaged in their child’s education and there should be a connection between the classroom and home.
The home numeracy environment has a significant impact on children’s early math skills (Niklas & Schneider, 2014), and teachers can help parents find ways to engage children in playful math activities that complement what they learn in the classroom. For example, teachers could include parents in a family game night at school, or send children home with a mathematical scavenger hunt to complete with a family member. These activities would give parents the opportunity to talk about math in a fun and meaningful way, based on everyday applications of topics being covered in class.