Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blocks and Fractions

Last week we spent time in the block corner of preschool with a little boy who pulled blocks off the shelf to the exclusion of other enticing activities. We determined that our best strategy was not to prevent the ‘dumping’ of blocks but to expand the block play for this child with our own interest in building with the blocks.
It can be helpful to understand the typical developmental sequence in block building. Lining up blocks to create a choo-choo train and putting a single block on top of another are the first stages. We know this from the researchers who have spent a lot of time on the floor with young preschoolers. To make your block play modeling or demonstrating more interesting to your preschooler doing these simple forms will be more productive than creating elaborate structures that are beyond the child’s development and interest.
What do children learn from lining up blocks either horizontally like a train or vertically like a tower? Besides developing coordination to achieve their desired result, children can have the physical experience of fractions. Preschools usually have blocks that are in distinct units of length, one long block equals two medium length blocks or four shorter blocks. When children play with these kinds of blocks, lining them up and stacking them in their own way, they are experimenting with fractions. In other words, they have the physical experience of these fractions before they put pencil to paper later in school. Having time to play and learn in this way will make learning fractions a snap later on.

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, “My it’s getting late”
The second one said,
“There are witches in the air”
The third one said, “But we don’t care”
The fourth one said, “We’re ready for some fun”
And the fifth one said,
“Let’s run and run and run”
OOoooooo went the wind
And out went the light
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

It is fun to do this by lighting a pumpkin or a pumpkin candle and blowing it out.  An alternate strategy is to clap hands once on the word out while having someone turn the lights out.

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