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!
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.”
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.