Mathematical Thinking at Play (5 year olds are amazing thinkers)

A few years ago I filmed a couple of the Fletcher gang playing  a game I love called “Set”.  Set shows us that challenging means fun.  The game that requires some pretty sophisticated thinking.   Initially, I didn’t know if  my 5 year-old could handle a full game of set, but I thought I would try it anyway.  And… she surprised me.  Even though she just turned 5 a week, earlier, she was capable of so much.  Now,  I’m not saying that she is a genius.  Rather, I make the point that average intelligence is still one of the most powerful forces the universe has ever produced.  We would do well to accept it.  When it comes to intelligence, however one defines it, average means powerful.

Check out the video to see how I worked with the Doo Dah.  The toy company markets Set as “the game of visual perception” but there is a lot more to it.  I use it primarily to encourage a) Planning/Executive Functioning  b) Simultaneous/holistic processing c) control of attention d) fun.  In the video you will notice that I use very little direct instruction.  Instead, I ask questions and encourage the Doo Dah to think for herself.  I could have given her the answer at one point, but that would have stopped her from thinking.  Instead, I  gave her just enough information to allow her to solve the problem for herself.  Watch this video with an eye for the process.  Maybe you do some of this yourself.  What you will see is: 1) I encourage the Doo Dah to survey the task/tell me her plan 2) I prompt her by asking questions/guiding her attention 3) I model for her by talking about my thinking 4) I ask her to summarize her own thinking.

Can Intelligence Be Taught?

How we think is very much a product of our culture and our relationships.  Play often leads to meaningful interactions,  creativity in learning, and new thinking strategies.  Even attention is developmental and  therefore trainable.  If you like, you could try meditation sometime.  You may find that the beginning  sitting practice is tough.  In fact, Buddhists say we have  “monkey mind” because our thoughts and attention bounce around like a monkey.  With practice, however, one learns to sit for longer periods.  One learns to select the breath as the object of attention.  Meditation is the art of resisting distracting thoughts, at least that is what I have learned.

On another note,  I can’t for the life of me understand how “experts” continue to ignore the important role that emotions play in learning.  Any reform that doesn’t place emotions at the center is likely to fail or have limited effects.  In response, several years ago I decided that I would develop video games as learning tools.  Few would disagree that it  is the child’s nature to play.  I go further.  I believe it is the adult’s nature to play, as well.  You might be aware that the average age of the most frequent video game customer is 40 http://bit.ly/brmQA .  If we care to bring the emotions into learning, we would do well to pay attention to video games.  I include play in learning precisely because play brings emotional experiences.  When a person feels intense feelings, he/she often performs better.  Boredom, conversely,  interferes with learning.  Anxiety interferes with learning.  Play, on the other hand, reduces harmful stress.  Video games are play. Video games can teach.

In a short while, my team and I will release what I think will be a very important iPad app.  I hope you will stay tuned so that you might try it.  I will give updates as the release date draws nearer.

For more on the role of emotions in learning, see http://bit.ly/bVRYul , http://bit.ly/aEQeFi and http://bit.ly/b8BYmE .

Can children learn the entire elementary school math curriculum in 30 hours?  For evidence that we might be underestimating what kids can do, see http://bit.ly/c7QETj

I recommend Todd Kashden’s excellent work on curiosity.  Please check it out:  http://www.toddkashdan.com/

8 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Brain development, Dr. Martin Fletcher, education, educational gaming, iPad Apps Math, learning, literacy, Math, Math Anxiety, mathematics, parenting, Primal Math, Psychologist, Psychology, Reading, skatekids

8 responses to “Mathematical Thinking at Play (5 year olds are amazing thinkers)

  1. Pingback: Ready…Set…wait, I need that card! « Real Learning… in progress

  2. Kathy is making me alert everyone that we also play “slap jack” and that I’m not being aggressive with my main man Carter when he reaches for the cards. That’s one of our moves. He is my main man and my deputy.

  3. yes. I have read sylvia–good stuff.

  4. Academics float nicely on a well developed brain.

  5. I’d never thought about it in terms of hours. That is a good point. A five year old Being will not have acquired a great deal of academic information, but she can think surprisingly well.

  6. wow. you covered a lot of very important territory. thanks. Yes. we must treat 5-yr-olds as if they have been thinking for 43,000 hours. Ken Robinson likes to tell the story of the kindergartner who is busily drawing with a crayon on a piece of while paper on his desk. The teacher comes by and says, “What are you drawing?”
    I am drawing God,” he replies.
    She thinks for a minute and says, “You know, no one has ever seen God.”
    “They will in a minute,” he replies.
    Never underestimate a 5-yr-old.

    • Miles Cobbett

      That’s a fun post thanks Marty, and it was a special treat to see your kids at work…:)
      And Rick, thanks for re-telling ken Robinson’s story about the five year old! The sense of wonder -and play- of a five year-old is truely amazing. The post and comments reminded me of one of my favorite authors on the subject of play and learning of kids ages 4-7. I am betting both of you are familiar wth the works of Sylvia Ashton Warner. Her books, Teacher, and I Passed This Way are two of my favorites.
      Miles & sled dog Stevie Nyx

      • Thanks for the recommendation, Miles & Stevie Nyx. I will go to Amazon now. I’m also reading Robert Fried’s “The Game of School”. Has anyone else here read it?

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