Treasures To Be Found

by Diann Gano, M.Ed

What math treasures are hiding in your game closet?  If you’re like me, you have more games in that closet than children in your program. If and when you do play games, do you choose the same few games over and over again?  

When I repurpose the pieces from our rarely used games, I often end up with a bounty of amazing loose-part math opportunities.  

The Haba Sleepy Princess game (below left) is lovely, but the children at our center rarely played with it. When I took the mattresses and pillows out of the box and put them in a basket near our block play area, however, these loose pieces soared in popularity and have been played with on a daily basis for the past five years. If you take a close look at the scenario below on the right, you will see that there is not only one-to-one correspondence, but color matching with pillows and characters. We have sets and patterns. We have playful math and learning children—and our math standards have been met!

Haba4                     mattress


When I took the wooden peg set (below left) off of its shelf and repurposed it in our kitchen area, the loose parts in the set sparked many math-rich adventures. Do you recognize the “pizza dough” topped with pieces of red “pepperoni” baking in our oven (below center)?  On top of the stove (below right), we have our fish and noodle soup, with a side of red “spaghetti.”

AAA   pegpizza  fish.jpg

On some days, these loose parts are fashioned into a pepperoni pizza. On other days, the children use them to “bake” a birthday cake or chocolate-chip cookies. Regardless of where their imaginations take them, the children have math in their hands and math on their minds. Math that is working through all the synapses to make sense of numbers and patterns and quantities.The many hours that the children have spent playing with these loose parts far surpasses the time that they might have spent using the game for its intended purpose, waiting their turn or being forced to place pegs into holes as we teach them about cardinality. A pepperoni pizza is much better nutrition for brain growth than a pegboard!

Let’s talk about repurposing some other games as loose parts. Dominoes can be repurposed as chocolate-chip muffins or cell phones (below). When you put dominoes in small baskets and set them out for the children to find, they will invariably spark new learning adventures.

Matching games and puzzles (below) are also a great source of loose parts. Just take the games and puzzles out of the closet, arrange the pieces in strategically placed baskets and you are inviting the children to play with math.

Look for it, observe it, capture it, document it. Match it up with your math standards and recycle the game boards. Trust me, you won’t ever need them again.

17 Replies to “Treasures To Be Found”

  1. Will the children get confused about where items belong in the classroom when items are placed in another center? Seems like we are always reorganizing at clean-up time everyday.

    1. HI Bonita,
      For our program, that wasn’t a problem. They didn’t know these pieces existed because we NEVER played with them. I like that you allow your students to carry things around the room to play with in other areas. If you consistently find the same materials in one area, what would happen if you just placed them there for a week? Hmmmm…………
      Good luck, let me know what happens. Thanks for your comments! Diann

  2. HI Bonita!!! I think is a good idea to challenge the kids, in this way they will be expose to grow and expand the patterns complexity!!!

  3. I love this idea so much! So many times my students take items from one center into another. I find it so logical (yet not so obvious LOL) to re-purpose it and let it take on a new life.I can’t wait to dig into our storage closets and see what is waiting to be repurposed into math!

  4. I like the loose parts concept – and we “recycle” parts and pieces. It even feels like Christmas on some days!!

  5. I too love the loose parts concepts and even thought of when exploring purchasing an older game at a rummage sale, utilizing this game and parts, since children like treasures hidden in closet are not aware of the game, so it could be re purposed with out confusion.

  6. I will use this idea. Games are always missing pieces here and there so I will have to remember to use them wisely in other centers.

  7. Thanks for the idea of re-purposing materials. I have several old board games that probably have missing pieces. I’m sure I can find ways to incorporate them for new play!

  8. i love the idea of taking game pieces from other games and creating new games.
    I think the children will love that!

  9. I Love this idea of treasure hunting for items you can find within your home; not only board game pieces or boards but there’s so much more to find and reuse (bracelets, large buttons, etc.)

  10. these are wonderful ideas, i did place puzzles in a container and noticed children will play with them more often then them sitting on a shelf

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