A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

Archive for the ‘Early Maths Understandings’ Category

Sight Word Graphing

By the end of the year our preppies are required to know approx. 40 sight words and we have been working steadily towards achieving this outcome through play and the manipulation of  lots of concrete materials including our Sight Word Stones. We also have our sight words on Duplo bricks which the children can stack, sort and put together to make sentences and phrases.










Currently, one of our favourite activities is Sight Word Graphing using these blocks. This activity involves the children  in selecting a block from the Lucky Dip box, reading the word and recording it on a graph. If the children select a block with a sight word they have already read and recorded, this block is stacked on top of the first, creating a block graph to match their paper one.










To make the blocks, I print out the words five times on labels and stick them to the side of the bricks/blocks. The random selection of the words using the Lucky Dip Box provides the children with the opportunity to explore and graph a variety of words. Some children may have 5 words on their graph and others up to 10, depending on what they draw out of the box. This creates lots of opportunities for numeracy discussions whilst the children compare and discuss their individual graphs. 










Here is a sample of the Lucky Dip graph.










As well as graphing the duplo blocks the children really enjoy graphing the results of a sight word hunt. On this sheet the children circle the same words in the same colour and fill in the graph accordingly. I like to use different fonts for this to provide opportunities for recognition of the sight word in differing forms and sizes to our beginners alphabet. I wonder if their enthusiasm for these activities is because the graphing provides them with a real life opportunity to use their numeracy understandings to record what they know.













I love to be able to provide opportunities to combine  literacy and numeracy learning together, especially when the children eagerly participate in the activity as well. Sight Word Graphing seems to be one of those opportunities.

Our Calendar

This term I have implemented a calendar time into our classroom routine.










This time as an opportunity to incorporate lots of literacy and numeracy learning into our daily routine. We begin with the name of the day and the date, which the children write into their calendar journal. I use this part of the routine to practice their letter and numeral formation. For the first week the children wrote over dotted lines to give them a size guide.










We have also learnt the “secret code” for writing the date eg. 3.10.11 is the third of October 2011. We enhance understandings of yesterday and tomorrow, which are time concepts young children often find difficult to grasp by moving the days up this chart.










We often sing our favourite Days of the Week song to help us remember which day will come next. The song is sung to the Adams Family theme song. Here is a link to a version of it on Youtube http://youtu.be/OPzIbbvoiMA 

During the year we have used graphs to record data about lots of topics such as our pets and favourite vegetables. To further enhance our graphing knowledge and understandings, we are recording the weather on a monthly basis using a graph. This graph is in the children’s journal as well.













We also chart the weather on a weekly basis.










The graphics for these charts were from a free web site called Pete’s Power Point Station.

After the weather, we record the number of days we have been at school. This is a great opportunity to practice counting, numeral recognition and numeral formation. The children record this number in a variety of ways each day.

On this page they write the numerals.










On the next page, the children are exploring the concept of Tally Marks.








We are also using concrete objects to explore groups of ten as we count the number of days at school. Every day we place a paddle pop stick in the ones cup. When we have ten we will bundle them up and move them into the tens cup. This activity is a real life way of learning about how we record and write numerals.













The final numeracy activity for Calendar Time is counting how many children are in class that day. All the girls/boys stand up and when counted (by tapping them on the shoulder) they sit down again. This number is recorded and the process is repeated for the other girls/boys. We also discuss how many children are absent. The children problem solve how many children are present in total based on all this information and then everyone stands up and is counted to determine the actual number present.













The final literacy activity is to review our Sight Words for the week.










Each day I write them in the talking bubbles, with the children copying them into their journal on the Sight Word page. As I form each letter in the words, I use our Casey Caterpillar Handwriting language to assist the children with forming their letters correctly. This activity enhances both handwriting and sight word recognition.

When we first began Calendar Time it would take us approximately 30 – 45 minutes, which, despite all the learning opportunities is a long time out of our day but,  each day we have gotten a little quicker and can now complete the whole activity in approx. 15 minutes. The children really love filling out their journal and, during the first week, lots of parents asked about Calendar Time because the children were coming home everyday telling them about it.

Calendar Time is quite a formal activity in our classroom and I am surprised at just how much the children enjoy this daily experience. Sometimes I wonder if  it is because it is a real life experience or they like owning and completing a “real school type” book or if it is a sign of their readiness to move onto Year One. Perhaps it is a combination of all three?  Whatever the reason, it has proven a valuable and engaging way of incorporating literacy and numeracy into our play based curriculum along with teaching the children the valuable “learning to learn” skill of how to organise themselves and find the correct work page in a book.

Sorting and Patterning in the Edible Garden

Once a week our preppies enjoy a lesson in the school’s edible garden.










Some of our garden lessons involve assisting with the maintanence and care of the garden, learning about the different plants through sensory exploration and learning about food production from the garden to the table. 









At other times the children use what they have found and collected for art and other learning activities including sorting and patterning. Here is one of the children’s A B patterns.










Another example……. using leaves and bean pods.








Seeds and leaves………








Some patterns are quite complex…..










The ready availability of natural materials in the edible garden, provides the children with endless opportunities for sorting and patterning, using all their senses in the process.


Our Tinkering Table

Throughout the year I have been fascinated to observe the intensity of thought that some of my preppies have put into their block constructions. One child in particular, carefully selects and considers the placement of each and every block he uses. His constructions and their exploration of balance, shape and complexity are astonishing.










Late last term he brought in some metal nuts, bolts and springs he had collected from the site where a bus had been repaired after breaking down. He asked if he could look at them on the light box and experimented with putting them together in interesting shapes and patterns. It was only whilst discussing these loose parts with him, and listening to his thinking about where they might have belonged on the bus, that I realised he was interested in, not just how things were constructed but also how they could be deconstructed and so our Tinkering Table was born!

I had seen a post on the wonderful blog Irresistable Ideas for Play Based about just such a table and immediately looked for a place in the classroom to add our own version of it. For now we are using the water trough because it stops the different parts and paraphernalia from falling to the floor but with summer fast approaching I will soon need to find an alternative.  

Our sound for the week was /v/ and so it seemed appropriate that the first object we should deconstruct was a vacuum cleaner. We added a set of screw drivers and waited to see what would happen.













At first the children explored the vacuum cleaner as a whole, opening and closing all the different compartments. They were excited to discover the cord could still be pulled out and retracted. An action they repeated over and over again. I was interested to observe that it was only after I posed the question “I wonder how that works?” that some of the children, including the child who had collected the nuts and bolts from the bus, chose to begin using the screw drivers and try to open it up.










Once they got started, the children demonstrated great persistence and concentration as they used the screw drivers and there was lots of celebrating when the first screw was finally undone. One down……… many, many more to go!










Mathematical understandings were enhanced as the children matched the size and type of screw driver required to the screws, learning during the process, the difference between flat headed and phillips head screws.










As one part was opened up another problem would arise, as the children worked together to think through what needed to be undone next. They discovered that there was a system to deconstruction, just as there is a method to construction.













The children have also discovered that deconstruction is not a quick process but when another part have been released from the screws holding it together, they are another step closer to finding out how it all works.










After 2 weeks of hard work the children have finally gotten through to the section of the vacuum that contains the motor and we are all really looking forward to this next stage of deconstruction.

Who would have thought that a simple everyday vacuum cleaner, a machine that can be found in almost every home would become such a long term and interesting project? Certainly not me….. but from now on I think that, just as construction with blocks and other materials is an everyday activity in our classroom, so too will be deconstruction at our very own Tinkering Table.


Arrrrrrrgh …….there be pirate stories to be told!

There’s been a lot of buzz about story stones on the blogosphere over the last few months and now that it is school holidays, I have finally been able to make some of my own.

It was recently Talk Like a Pirate Day and in honour of that day I thought I would make some story stones around the pirate theme.










Last school holidays I had made some alphabet, counting and sight word stones and still had plenty of left over rocks.I purchased some acid free stickers with pirate images on them and stuck them on the rocks. I painted 2 coats of PVA glue over the top. This glue dries clear and seals the stickers onto the stones.










The sticker pictures came in different sizes, adding mathematical language to the stories as well.










To store the stones I cut a square of red ticking fabric which can also act as a mat for telling the stories.













When finished, the children can bundle up the stones inside the fabric and using some thick cord, made into a loop, secure them inside ready for next time.













On the other side of the fabric, a treasure map could be drawn to add to the story telling. To stimulate dramatic play I have added some golden beads to the pirate bundle.

I’m now going to make some more generic story stones using other stickers I’ve collected.

Here are the links to my other posts about the sight word and alphabet stones.



The Wedding Castle Part 2 – Playing in Prep and the National Curriculum

With wedding plans well under way the children were faced with a problem when the castle builders realised that the castle was not big enough to hold the wedding. At Reflection Time the children needed to find a solution to the problem. After a lot of discussion and sharing of ideas the guards suggested turning the whole classroom into a castle. (They had been spending the last few days guarding the door to our classroom and made the connection from this activity to solving the problem.)

The children thought this was a great idea and plans were quickly drawn up the next day.










This child drew the classroom castle and included the ramp up to our front verandah.










These children used the rulers to measure and rule up  their plans.










Once the plans were finalised. Construction began. The children chose the grey colour to represent stone. We have been exploring colour and light all term and used this knowledge to make the grey paint themselves.










As you can imagine this process required lots of team work and persistence.










In the slide below you will see the painted windows which we did for Our Many Coloured Days project and were perfect for the castle as stained glass windows.










Castle construction is hard work and we wanted to make sure we had everything we needed so lots of research took place using books and the Internet.










The children observed the Coats of Arms worn by the knights and we discussed their symbolism The children were keen to create their own Coat of Arms and thought carefully about what they could paint to represent themselves. Many children used their initials as well as animals such as lions to represent their strength. It was interesting to observe the children share their ideas about each other and even me. When I asked them what they thought I would paint on my Coat of Arms they said an “L” and “a ladybird because I love ladybirds.” They demonstrated a real understanding of symbolism and of themselves and their peers.










When they were dry, the children cut out their paintings and we laminated them. These were then placed on the outside of our castle.










Another feature of castles the children were eager to make was a drawbridge. We looked at drawbridge images on the internet and selected the type they wanted to make. When I first saw this image I immediately thought about using string but the children had other ideas.










They wanted to make chains just like in the image. We had made paper chains earlier in the year and so they had the skill and prior knowledge to achieve this independently. A quick scrounge in the storeroom for “something stronger than paper” provided the children with some leather like wall paper that they quickly cut and stapled into chains. Lots of  measuring and discussion and thinking was used as the children measured the chains to determine an appropriate length and then to make sure both chains were the same length. Whilst this was occurring other children were painting a large piece of cardboard for the bridge section. This time the children chose brown “because it looks like wood.”










Whilst doing their research some of the children noticed that castles often had large paintings on their walls. Using this information and knowing that we were having our Father’s Day Pizza and Play night that week,  the children painted ancestral portraits of their fathers to hang in the castle. These portraits also had frames that were  painted/rolled/printed so that the portraits looked  just like the ones in the book.










As well as all these activities, some of the children were exploring other ideas of their own.










This child was very interested in designing a wedding cake with “lots of layers” and began a design book of cake drawings using lots of shapes. When she went home this particular day she asked her Mum to help her google design images that she brought in the next day. She incorporated some of these ideas into her book as well.











Other children saw her images and asked to google wedding cake designs as well. “Let’s Google it” is a common catch cry in our classroom and the Interactive Whiteboard makes the whole process much easier for the children.










With the wedding day approaching,the cake designer became the cake maker with some help from her friends.

Once again thinking and problem solving, along with measurement was required to cover the cakes.










The children became so involved in the process that their original design was forgotten. They particularly loved drawing the sprinkles all over the cake. Please note the circle shaped top layer. From the very beginning, our cake designer was adament that the top had to be a circle and in every design she drew this was a design feature and she followed this through to the finished cake.










The final finishing touch – some ribbon they saw a bride adding to her dress.










Here is a sign I found on the front door as I was locking the classroom/castle one afternoon. This is the kind of thing that happens when children have ownership over their learning and their play.










As I stated earlier, in our classroom if the children need something for their play, they are encouraged to make it themselves with help if needed. Some of our knights decided they needed a trusty steed and made them using boxes and cardboard. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo but the horse is the construction he is wearing around his waist and the part at the front is the head. He used a toilet roll to make the horse’s long neck.










The knights transferred their knowledge about Coats of Arms to add to their armour creations.










With the addition of more knights, our original guards needed to share the experience and teach the new recruits the ropes.










We are now approaching the end of the wedding castle journey prior to the lecture and tomorrow I will upload the next section.

The Castle Wedding – Playing in Prep and the National Curriculum

Play is one of five contexts for learning in the Early Years Curriculum.

The others being –

Routines and Transitions

Real Life Experiences

Focussed Teaching and Learning


Play can also be a pedagogy, a way of teaching that encourages learning through active participation.

So what does active participatory learning mean?

Anne Epstein from Highscope defines it as –

  • experiences based on the children’s interests
  • experiences that are hands on and linked to real life situations
  • children actively constructing their understandings
  • by making choices children are involved in problem solving and decision making both necessary skills for learning
  • adults acting as guides and facilitators of the learning
  • adults expand children’s thinking with diverse materials and nurturing interactions.

What does a play pedagogy look like in a prep classroom?

We have been involved in castle play for the last 3 week. What do you think this would look like?

My Classroom


How it all began…….. Some of the children constructed a castlein block area using the waffle blocks

 Some of the children decided they wanted to be kings and queens in the castle and made crowns.

To encourage thinking and problem solving the children are not given templates for these ideas (ie crown making) and need to work out how to make the crowns using prior knowledge and to seek help if they need it.

Through this philosophy of designing and creating what they need themselves, the children develop lots of  skills and understandings and view themselves as competant and capable. When making their crowns the children are enhancing measurement concepts and practicing lots of fine motor skills as well as using their imagination.

Several of the girls decided they wanted to get married in the castle. One of the girls made a wedding cake.

During Reflection Time, at the end of play time, the children said they were going to have a wedding. We brainstormed everything they knew about weddings.

The next day, wedding preparations began with the brides and grooms researching dress, suit and bow tie designs.

Research Learning Statements – Reading and Viewing, Writing and Shaping, Oral Language


Designs were drawn. Design Learning Statements – Imagining and Responding, Writing and Shaping

The brides also consulted with our Dress Designer who had compiled a book of suggested designs and accessories.

Consultation Learning Statements – Social and Personal Learning, Oral Language,  Thinking, Reading and Viewing

When the final design was decided upon, production of each dress began.

Production Learning Statements – Investigating Technology, Fine Motor Skills, Thinking

During production, fittings were needed.

Fitting Learning Statements – Early Maths Understandings, Thinking,  Oral Language

    Is it too big?

    Is it too small?

    Is it too long?

     Is it too short?









One of the brides wanted sleeves in her dress. This was a challenge for everyone and required lots of thinking and problem solving.

The design –

The Wedding Dress almost finished.

Some of the brides decided they wanted lace on their dresses and a new industry appeared in the classroom – lace making.

Lace Making Learning Statements – Imagining and Responding, Fine Motor skills, Thinking,  Social and Personal Learning


The designer and lace maker consulting on where the lace needs to be placed and if anymore is required.


One dress finished. It even has a designer label on it.

Only 5 more dresses to go!












Whilst the brides were busy with their dresses, the grooms were also busy making their wedding attire.


  This groom is wearing his Knight helmet and shield. As well as his designer tie.

This groom asked his father for his favourite tie because he like sailing boats.


 Weddings fit into the Understanding Cultural Diversity learning statement of our curriculum. To enhance our knowledge of

 weddings we explored wedding customs from several other cultures including –

Chinese Weddings


 New Zealand Weddings –



and Indian Weddings



This exploration of weddings in other cultures inspired one of our brides to design a one shouldered red wedding dress.

This design needed to be altered because we didn’t have any red fabric to make the dress and the bride decided to have a white

 dress with red rubies instead.


 The bride and dress designer decided a row of square rubies were needed on the bodice of the dress.


For the skirt, the bride elected to scrunch the rubies up for a 3D effect.

and place them randomly around the skirt.

Knight Helmets were a popular choice of headwear for the grooms with this groom designing a special wedding knight helmet to

 wear to his wedding.

    “It is high like a wedding hat” he told me.

Here are some of our grooms/knights guarding the classroom door in the “regular” helmets and armour.

In another area of the classroom our florists had begun making the colourful paper for the flowers that will go into the wedding

 bouquets. They used their prior knowledge of making butterflies using paper towels and eye droppers to make the paper

and with the help of our teacher aide they used pipe cleaners to fold the paper into flowers (just like we had made our

 butterflies) and joined them together for the bouquets.

With the whole class enthusiastically preparing for the wedding, our castle builders discovered a problem.

The castle was too small to fit in all of the bridal parties and the wedding guests. What were we going to do? Could we still have the

 wedding? Does anyone have any ideas?


Tomorrow I will post the solution and the rest of the lecture. Linking this learning to the National Curriculum.


The Racing Track

Block construction is a popular everyday activity in our classroom and, whilst there are documented stages of development that children go through as they construct with blocks, sometimes I think they can get a bit “stuck”  and need some support to move on in their thinking.  An example of this occured when I had a group of children in my class who pushed blocks around the floor pretending they were cars, occassionally constructing a simple straight road for them to drive on.

Over several days I listened to and observed their play, noticing a strong interest in racing cars. Using this information, I added some numbers and stripes to a car and asked if I could join them in their game. They immediately noticed the numbers on my car and this provoked an interesting conversation about racing cars and tracks. From this discussion the children decided to construct their own racing track and using the Interactive Whiteboard we searched for information to support their ideas. The IWB is a really useful tool in these situations as it provides the children with opportunities to closely observe and discuss the images they find interesting. From the information found, they can synthesise, select, and print out the ideas that are the most useful to their play.








Using Higher Order Thinking and Critical Literacy skills to make decisions and enhance learning.









Armed with the information they needed, the children began their construction. Some of the children drew plans and built the racing track. As they built the track they also constructed the safety fence after noticing one in some of the images they found.











One of the children was very eager to construct the Pit Stop area – with  little fuel tanks and hoses “for the mechanics to fill up the cars when they run out of petrol”.








He even built the opening from the track “so the cars can zoom in and get fixed.”








Other children were interested in the signs and flags they observed around the tracks and took on the role of making them.

The speed limit sign –














































It was tricky getting the Finish Line banner to stay up.







All the children spent a lot of time making number signs for their cars. At first the signs fitted on the cars………










but then they equated the bigger the number with the faster the car and this is what happened………

  Lots of numeral writing. There is a car hiding under all the signs but they didn’t last long because the cars didn’t fit on the track with them on.





The fire coming out of the exhaust.










An experimental car made out of collage and boxes.










The children were engaged in long periods of rich sustained play not just when constructing the racing track, but also when it was completed.
















The purpose of this experience was to “move on” some of the children’s thinking when constructing with blocks. This project demonstrated they were ready and able to operate at a “higher” stage of construction development. It was only in later construction opportunities that their ability to apply their understandings independently would be known. Here is an example of another racing track built after this project. This was was built without support or scaffolding from an adult.










and the start of a road with an interesting bridge.










After this project the children’s block constructions continued to develop and evolve as they explored other ideas and structures.

Sometimes they just need a little help and support to “move on” .

As a Follow Up to this project we used stop watches to time cars as they raced down luge ramps (long pieces of PVC pipe sliced in half). The whole class had lots of fun experimenting with the angles to discover which was the fastest.