Why Start with FREE Play? - Play Discover Learn 24/7

Why Start with FREE Play?

You are ready to jump into Cuisenaire rods or maybe you and your children have been enjoying free play but not sure if you are ready to move to directed learning, i.e. task based activities.   How do you know when your child is ready?

What is free play all about?

Free time is meant to acquaint the child with the rods.  There is specific knowledge that is intuitively gained by the child during free play.  This specific knowledge can be gained in one session for older children and for younger children (preschool), a few months to a year or more.  What knowledge are we looking for students to gain intuitively through playing with the rods?

The Handbook of Activities Textbook states:

  • that rods are of different sizes
  • that all rods of a particular color are of a particular length
  • that only rods of a particular color are of a particular length
  • that rods are graduated in length
  • that one rod can replace two for a particular length, and vice versa

Checking for Knowledge (Awareness)

You can easily check by talking about what the child is building during a free play session.

Checking for Awareness

  • What are you building? What kind of rods are you using?
  • That looks like a staircase. Is that a staircase? Tell me about your staircase.  What rods did you use?  Can you show me how to build one?
  • Did you run out of orange rods? What did you use instead?
  • I see you are using all yellow rods to make the lion face. What shape does it make?

Always be sure to ask these questions with genuine interest and to avoid any sense of domineering, interrogation or authority.  A non-threatening environment will cultivate an open discussion between you and the child.

“In all matters, children will only agree to express themselves when they meet someone who is really interested in what they experience and who knows how to receive their original creations.”

-Madeleine Goutard, Mathematics and Children 

Why not gain this knowledge through directed learning?

Gaining this knowledge intuitively begins the child and you on a journey that puts the child in control of their learning from the beginning.  It also starts you (the teacher) on the journey of tapping into your child’s awareness.

“The teaching mode must also undergo changes if it is to enable learners to achieve their own conquest of mathematics. Teachers are asked to relinquish their traditional roles as central figures in the classroom, as setters of learning content, pace and style, as authorities making absolute decisions about who learns what and when, and as final arbiters of what is right and what is wrong.” 

-Guy and Gattegno, Handbook of Activities

All children are mathematically aware, and part of richer, deeper understanding of math begins with connecting first to their awareness.   By seeing what they see, you will begin the journey of validating their thinking, challenging their thinking and extending their thinking.

Providing Context

This is opposite of imposing your ideas and your awareness onto the child.  The child learns better within the context of their own experiences.  The rods provide that experience and context by which you can better connect to their thinking.

Instead, they (teachers) must become “facilitators” who, by subordinating teaching to the students’ learning, enable them to develop their mathematical awarenesses as a function of their own experience, motivation and mental power. By restoring the responsibility for learning to the students, teachers not only come to preserve the spontaneous ways in which children learn , but also ensure the greatest possible levels of involvement, effectiveness and enjoyment in the classroom.

-Guy and Gattegno, Handbook of Activities 

Working within the student’s context (their experience) is a lot less work than trying to insert them into your context which is based upon years upon years of your individual experience.  To ask a child to understand an idea within your own context is rather unfair, burdensome and unnecessary to developing deeper, richer understanding.  Free play is the beginning of your journey as a teacher to begin walking in this new role as a faciliator relinquishing the traditional role of a teacher.

Ready for Directed Learning

Once the basic knowledge as listed in the Handbook of Activities has been gained, it is time to move towards directed learning.   There will be plenty of opportunities to explore the basic knowledge more in directed learning, so don’t worry if their understanding lacks depth.   Also, free play never loses its importance.  It will be returned to often but it will not be the only activity for your daily math routine.