Thursday, January 5, 2023

Daily Math Talks with Young Children


  “Mathematics is a very broad and multidimensional subject that requires reasoning, creativity, connection making, and interpretation of methods; it is a set of ideas that helps illuminate the world; and it is constantly changing.”
Jo Boaler

Math talks are a great way to engage children in open-ended explorations that invite them to think critically and creatively about a concept. An effective math prompt to facilitate a rich math discussion will be layered; it should be open-ended with multiple entry points for engagement. Even children as young as kindergarten are capable of participating in complex math conversations. In our classroom I aim to invite children into a math talk at least once a day; I sometimes use the numerical date on our morning message as the spark for exploration. Other times an interesting photo or collection of loose parts will be engaging and incite children into further exploration. I try to vary the invitations I provide in order to diversify the math we discuss and to reach as many learning interests as possible.

Recently I posted two Instagram Reels regarding our daily math talks that has generated many questions regarding how we engage young children in robust discussions about math each morning. There was much interest in these math prompts and many educators reached out with questions regarding how I create these prompts.

In our program we have a morning circle time. This circle is our first whole group gathering time for the day and helps set a positive atmosphere in our classroom. It is also a time to celebrate being together, and share news from our homes. We often use it as an opportunity to read a story and discuss any new and exciting activities or additions to our classroom space about which the children should know in order to be successful for the day. 
When I first started teaching kindergarten many years ago it was expected that the morning circle would begin with 'calendar time' where children would put a sticky number on a large grid to depict the day and there would be an extensive discussion about the calendar (e.g., day of the week, month, year). However over the years I realized that this was a very teacher-directed task and not as meaningful a use of our time. After reading Sherry Parrish's work on number talks I was inspired to use our morning message as an anchor for math talks. Wanting to still introduce the date to students, the numerical representation of the date became the foundation for our number talks most days. Sometimes I would use other prompts depending on the events and interests emerging in our classroom. If you would like to read more about number talks in kindergarten, you can access an article I wrote for the Journal of Teaching and Learning here: Joyful Number Talks in Kindergarten
I enjoy participating in a professional learning community with educators on social media and often tweet or Instagram my number talk prompts. Many educators have reached out to me how I create these open ended math talks, and to ask if I would consider sharing some ideas to try. Here are some examples of number talks we have used in the classroom. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comment section or tweet/instagram me @McLennan1977. 

To help support educators who are interested in starting daily math talks with children, I have published a book called Calendar Math: Daily Prompts for Math Explorations with Children

To help give an idea of what this book is about, and to help educators create their own math prompts, here are the first few pages of the book!


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Many Benefits of Mud Play

"We can't blame children for occupying themselves with Facebook rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn't put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact too often we tell them it's dirty and dangerous."     

David Suzuki

Mud play is an incredibly rich learning activity that many children enjoy. Although it can make some educators and families squeamish due to the potential mess, playing with dirt and mud offer so many learning benefits for children. Spending time outdoors exploring many natural elements helps children recognize that there is no such thing as bad surroundings or weather. There is beauty and wonder to be found in every aspect of nature. Sometimes in early childhood education we need to help our families and school community understand the authentic learning that can happen when children play with sensory materials like water and mud outdoors. Demonstrating the meaningful math and literacy connections that emerge in this type of play can build support for outdoor exploration and learning. Sharing this through regular communication including documentation can be incredibly helpful in cultivating positive partnerships and support for messy play outdoors.

There are many benefits for children playing in the mud: 

1. Playing with natural materials like mud and water help children build a relationship with nature. Fresh air and exploration of natural elements encourage creativity and exploration. Children are often drawn to messy sensory materials and enjoy the freedom that mud play provides. As children spend time in nature they will appreciate its beauty and wonder, hopefully encouraging them to grow into eco-warriors who will work to sustain and protect the natural environment. 

2. Mud play encourages problem-solving and innovation. When children work together to create mud cakes and other delicacies in the outdoor kitchen they use their imagination to transform the materials into dramatic play props. It's amazing to watch children as they explain their recipes, adding bits of dirt and weeds to a pot and stirring an imaginary stew or soup. Flower petals and grass become the decorations for a fancy cake.

3. Children explore many math concepts authentically through mud play. As children scoop and pour water and dirt using a variety of tools (e.g., spoons, cups, bowls, muffin tins) they quantify their work. They use math language to describe what they are doing (e.g., The cup is heavy with mud. My bowl is half full.). Educators who play alongside children can 'think aloud' and help mathematize what they see happening and advance the play. 

4. Mud play bolsters children's oral communication. As children work together in their play they describe their actions to one another. They share their thinking as they engage in imaginative and dramatic play, expressing their thoughts orally. Children work together cooperatively in play situations and these incorporate subject specific vocabulary and directions. Children can also use rich language to describe what they see and feel (e.g., The mud is sticky/gooey/crumbly/caked.)

5. Playing with dirt and mud strengthens children's fine and gross motor skills. The consistency of mud can be a challenging medium for children to use. When it is thin and runny it is quick to scoop and pour. As it hardens and thickens it becomes heavy and awkward. Children use their hand and arm muscles to manipulate it in different ways. Thicker mud can be formed using the hands in a fashion similar to clay or play dough, working fine motor muscles.

6. Mud play appeals to sensory learners and can be a calming and enjoyable activity for many. Sunlight, fresh air and exploring the elements help children connect to their surroundings and encourage big body exploration that is not always available indoors. Many children may be discouraged from playing in the mud at home and the act of doing so at school may be freeing for them. It is also a familiar activity that can be soothing for children who are still adjusting to the school setting.

7. Research shows that playing in the dirt can strengthen children's health and immunity. Exposure to microorganisms in the earth can strengthen our immune response and help our bodies adapt more efficiently to our surroundings.

Looking for a book to read with children to support their work with mud? You might be interested in my new book Muddy Math: See, Think and Wonder available now through Amazon!

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