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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Rock math

Last week I started to make a case for having rocks in the classroom for children to explore and use. There is a primal connection between humans and rocks and by providing rocks for children in the classroom, some of those primal connections emerge.  Last week I wrote about how children used rocks as tools and for making marks.

Another reason I provide rocks in the classroom is that they are so versatile.  The children find a myriad of ways to use them for their own purposes.  
Children simply line them up.  On the left, a child balanced the rocks on the lip of the table as if to outline the table.  On the right, the child lined the rocks along the line created by the transition between the carpet and the tile.  

Children use rocks to fill containers.  On the left, they filled a jello mold with rocks.  The children had to find the right sizes to fill the mold.  On the right, they filled up a cardboard tube to overflowing.

Children use rocks to fill big containers, too.  The children filled a five-gallon bucket with rocks and then tried to lift it.
On his tiptoes, the child strained to lift the bucket full of rocks.  He could not lift it; he could not even move it.  Interestingly, he did not stop there.  After trying to lift the bucket, he collected more rocks and put them in the bucket.  He said he wanted to make sure no one could ever lift it up.


Children try to fit rocks into holes.  On the left, the child wanted to see if the rock fit into the clear plastic tube.  On the right, the child wanted to see if a rock would fit through the hole in the top of the bottle. 

Children not only try to fit rocks into holes, they also experiment with what fits into holes in rocks.  One child tried to fit her fingers into a hole she found in a rock.  She first put her little finger into the hole in the rock and said: "Even the little finger fits."

Finger holes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She was able to fit all her fingers one-by-one into the hole in the rock.  Each time she put a finger into the hole, she declared: "Even this one [fits]." 

These may seem like simple operations to adults, but to children they are fundamental math exercises.  To create lines and angles with rocks is geometry.  To fill containers is to experience volume and, in the case of a big container, weight.   To test to see if a rock fits into a hole---or fingers fit into a hole in a rock---is an exercise in estimation and measurement.  

Though I am trying to make a case for bringing rocks into the classroom, children need an opportunity to explore rocks outside, too.  When we give children the time and the space to explore rocks---both inside and outside---their explorations look a lot like math.

I have purposely left out counting or numbers with rocks.  Yes, I am a heretic.  Too often we only think of math in terms of numeracy for young children.  Given the opportunity, children will find ways to use rocks that lay a concrete foundation for multiple and complex concepts in the area of math learning.

Dare I say it: rock math rocks!

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