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Mathematics: Measurement

red, white, blue, yellow nesting cups

Measurement is a basic math concept for time, quantity, size, weight, and volume. Children learn these properties naturally through play. Think about the concepts learned while filling and spilling, nesting and stacking. Fill the pail. The pail is full. Spill the contents of the pail. The pail is empty. Full or empty, the pail has weight and dimensions. The pail is its lightest when empty, heaviest when full. Between empty and full, t volume and  weight vary.

Variety of Materials

Children learn sizes, order, and spatial relations as they explore, stack, and nest boxes and cups in a variety of materials, each with its own properties. Consider graduated boxes. These may be constructed of cardboard, wood, or molded plastic. Both plastic and cardboard will be lighter than wooden. Experience with a variety of nesting and stacking toys broadens children’s understanding of the properties of different materials and the ways those materials predict how the toys can be used.

Size, Order, and Spatial Relations

 Nesting Cylinders and Nesting Boxes give children an opportunity to experience nesting and stacking different shapes. Exploring both invites an experiential understanding of similarities and differences. Similarities include three sizes of each shape. Measuring confirms the dimensions of each and shows their corresponding heights. Weighing each shows their corresponding weights. During play children discover differences as well. The small cylinder will fit inside the medium box while the small box stays on top of the medium cylinder.

Learning Words

Such play enhances emerging cognitive, language, and mathematics skills. Learning words to describe the relative positions of the boxes and cylinders develops spatial awareness. And sets the stage for geometry. Think of the concepts being explored: small, medium, and large. Smaller and larger, shorter and taller. Lighter and heavier. Inside and outside. On top of, in the middle, on the bottom.

Wooden toys are classic and durable, apt to withstand rigorous play and be handed down to the next generation. That said, sturdy plastic nesting and stacking toys invite sand and water play that would be ill advised with their wooden counterparts.

Volume

Children explore volume as they fill and spill the 10 round, graduated, plastic ambi Building Beakers. Pouring sand or water from a smaller into a larger beaker demonstrates differences in volume. The child readily discovers that what fills one beaker is too little or too much for another. Experimentation may lead to discovering how many of the smallest beakers are needed to fill the largest.

Developmental Age Matters

How far a child goes with such experimentation varies with developmental age and personal interest. The play and learning development of a one-year-old obviously differs from that of a three-year-old. Dropping the smallest beaker into a larger one, then dumping the smaller one out, over and over again, is appropriate beginning play. Learning simple concepts-empty and full, in and out, small and large-lays the foundation for more complex learning. Nesting and stacking require differentiating sizes and ordering the beakers to fit one inside the other or one atop the other. Repetition further solidifies concept acquisition and readies the child for taking the next step in learning mathematics.

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Stack and Learn

Toddlers are scientists. They’re constantly researching “what happens if” and observing the outcome of their experiments. Thus the insistence upon repetition. Consistent results confirm their understanding of cause and effect. Through repetition the children develop a basic understanding of the relationship between actions and effects. The more open-ended and varied the play experiences, the better. Similar but different play experiences allow children to apply what they’ve learned and adapt it to new challenges.

Building beakers nest one inside the other or stack one atop another. The design of classic wooden stackers, on the other hand, limits play to stacking alone. The process of stacking also changes when the object becomes piling rings one atop another on a dowel.  A stacker with a uniform dowel allows placing rings in any order without regard to their relative size, as would be required by a cone shaped post. The child is free to focus on attaining competence at one task before tackling another. This reduces frustration and invites experimenting with different arrangements of the rings. As the child becomes aware of differences in size, she’ll likely stack from largest to smallest as well as experiment with turning the column upside down by arranging rings from smallest to largest, a feat more easily accomplished when stacking on a post than when piling larger building beakers atop smaller ones.

Holgate, an American toymaker, introduced Rocky Color Cone, a classic wooden stacker with a twist, in 1938. The trademarked feature, a rounded bottom, invites children to give Rocky a push and watch as it rocks, spins, and topples over, spilling the rings and setting the stage for another round of stacking and toppling. 

Once a single dowel stacker becomes “old hat,” consider double or triple versions with variations in the shapes and colors of the rings. A triple stacker with uniform dowels invites mixing and matching of rings in three distinctive shapes and color combinations. No longer focusing exclusively on developing motor skills, the preschooler is ready to turn her attention to new challenges.

Stacking develops eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Identifying colors and shapes, recognizing relative sizes, and developing patterns that mix and match these attributes represents cognitive and language skills that come from interacting freely with similar but different toys along a developmental continuum. 

Learning is an incremental process. Understanding patterns is a prerequisite for learning to read. Words are letters arranged in specific patterns. P-L-A-Y is essential. We learn because we play.

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Why Open-ended Play?

Consider open-ended pretend play. When a girl dresses up as a princess, she creates her own story. She may combine elements from other costumes that appeal to her and create a unique identity. Add a toque, and she’s a princess chef. Or is that a chef princess? She also may pretend to be a character from a movie she’s seen, but she’s not operating exclusively as that character or from that point of view.

On the other hand, when she wears a licensed princess dress, she’s assuming a role and following a “script” as she plays. The character may be admirable, but in adopting a persona, the child misses an opportunity to create her own. Scripted play imitates. Open-ended play imagines and creates.

Self directed engagement with toys designed for open-ended play enriches and expands possibilities, opening avenues not previously considered. And develops creative, self directed, curious-to-know-more learners. Creativity enables us to look at situations differently, to think outside the box and find solutions to problems.

Classic among open-ended toys are blocks, in all their innumerable forms. Quintessential, simple, and irresistible, wooden blocks invite play.
While playing children develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, cognitive, language, and when playing with others, social skills. They sharpen spatial awareness and creativity and learn about balance, gravity and symmetry. All without instructions.

Initially such freedom can be discombobulating, for children and adults alike. The best response is to do what feels best, from standing back, observing, and pondering before engaging to jumping right in. Both approaches have their advocates. What’s imperative is engaging, losing ourselves in the process of discovering what works and what doesn’t, and dividing solutions to problems that arise.

Recently an assembly of marketing students was asked, “What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says play?” The unanimous response was “FUN.” Play is both fun and fundamental to learning. The more we engage in activities that both delight and challenge us, the greater our satisfaction.

wooden curve building blocks

 

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What Happens If…?

What happens if ? I do this, that, or something else altogether? That’s a question children answer through play. Building toys provide endless opportunities to learn cause and effect. Inviting both open-ended and structured play, these toys are essential early childhood skill builders. Cognitive, language, and fine motor skills develop through interacting with various materials in multiple ways. Eye-hand coordination and spatial awareness emerge as children take apart and put together, imagine and build. Block play, from stacking a column of cubes to laying out an elaborate city scape, requires devising a plan and solving problem as they arise and fosters creativity and imaginative play.

Squeezable, embossed, soft plastic blocks

Blocks are essential early childhood toys. Block play begins in infancy with soft, lightweight, easy to grasp blocks. One Two Squeeze Blocks, 10 blocks hand-sculpted on every side with raised images, provide maximum tactile exploration and language learning. Children squeeze and squeak, stack and knock down, experiencing “what happens if…,” and learning cause and effect. Each two-inch cube is an ideal size for tiny hands to grip. One Two Squeeze Blocks also float, adding another dimension to water play.

 

 

wooden blocks with plug and dowel connectors

Stack & Play, 18 wooden blocks in bright colors and varying shapes, expands play for toddlers. Stacking without unintentionally knocking off the previously stacked block is challenging. Stack & Play blocks, with their uniform dowel and plug connectors that fit together easily, reduce frustration and make block play more rewarding.

 

 

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Alternatives to Screen Time

Statistics show that 99% of US households own a television; 66% have three or more. I have read that the average American child watches television 1,680 minutes per week. That’s 28 hours a week or an average of four hours each and every day spent watching television.

How else might that time be spent? Trade this passive, sedentary activity for something active, engaging and stimulating. Read a book. Paint a picture. Pull out blocks and build whatever comes to mind. Block play is fundamental. Classic wooden blocks in varied shapes and sizes invite play that develops spatial awareness; strengthens eye-hand coordination and motor skills; increases cognitive, language, and mathematical skills, and teaches about balance and gravity. Building enhances creativity, problem solving, collaboration, cooperation, and social skills. Add props and create an imaginative play scenario.

Take a walk – rain or shine. Jump rope. Play hide-and-seek. Plant a garden. Bake cookies. Pack a lunch, go to the park, and have a picnic. Play a game. Whether cooperative or competitive, games have rules that everyone must follow. Playing a game well requires mutual respect among participants, understanding and accepting the rules, taking turns, following directions, paying attention, playing fair, and accepting the outcome graciously. Playing well with others takes practice. Let the games begin. 

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