Thursday, 5 March 2015


I often walk around the markets drinking coffee and chatting to stall holders and something will catch my eye. This particular day I was with a friend and a lonely little cardboard box was on the ground in front of a trash and treasure stall. No one stopped to open the flap they just kept walking past. I couldn't do it. I had to see what discarded treasure was inside. (I say treasure because someone else's trash is always someone else's treasure). When I pulled the flap back a thousand possibilities jumped out. Bags and bags of little metal craft jewels all packaged and waiting for someone to see their potential.  To say I was excited is not an exaggeration. As soon as I recognised what they were and that there was more than one sort mathematical concepts started swimming in front of my eyes.
Oh the sorting, grouping, matching, patterns, comparing, sequencing, counting, dividing, multiplying and sharing; the possibilities were endless in my mind.
I had to have the whole box which ended up being divided between me and my fellow marketeer. 
It was obvious the vender had no idea he had just sold a box of endless learning opportunities for children at the bargain price of only $10.
So they sat in my shed for months and months until today when they jumped out screaming pick me pick me. You see I was looking for an activity to put out that would engage the children but with intentional reasoning behind it: to build on the children's hand and finger strength. I wasn't looking for an activity relating to mathematical concepts at all, however, when I noticed the small packets I knew that they had the potential to be both.
After putting them in a basket on the table I just let the children investigate. No prompting, no suggesting just free range to do with at will.
The first hurdle was to get the packets open. Grunts and groans followed by 'I just can't open it' were echo by all children.
Still no interference.
Hang on a break through. One child found if she ripped the corner upwards she could get a better grip. So with all the strength she had she pulled, just like a tug of war; the plastic one direction the cardboard the other. Next minute success as the slightly overbalanced child yells out "I got it".
That was the start of all the children mastering the art of opening packaging.
Opening items is a learned skill. We need to provide the opportunity for children to work it out for themselves. Yes we can demonstrate, but if we keep doing it for them we rob them of the feeling of accomplishment or developing the skills that will carry them through to the next stage of their learning.
So while I did buy the jewels to be used with a preconceived idea in my mind they proved to be so much more.
The determination of opening the packets outweighs the learning that followed. I already know that the children here are mathematically competent for their ages, but what I have observed over the last few weeks is that they needed support in building strength in their hands.
Looking for learning can be tricky. Sometimes we need to open our eyes wider. It is not always about academia.
Building sound foundations will support a world of learning.
Lets get back to basics. Oh and quirky is fun too.


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