While the Insta-learn boards remain the five star material, workstation containers evolve ever higher. I can vouch for these independent number activities when presented in the way I describe.
I print them on card stock in two different colors. The set with numerals on one color; the set without numerals on a different color. I then cut out each of the eleven cards on the page and put them in a shortened #1 coin envelope — one complete set (0-10) in each envelope.
Six or so of these envelopes go out in workstations for the children to play with and invent their own games. I document what the children invent with the cards and bring that documentation to group time. If the children have nothing to say, I put it away and wait until another interesting invention occurs and bring that to group time. No instruction, please! This is open-ended for the children and scientific investigation for the educators. I know of many games the adults have tried to get children to play with the cards, but I won’t mention them. I see no need for adults to mess up a perfectly good opportunity for discovery. It may be difficult to visualize, but when children encounter these numeral cards in workstations after all their months of experience in the workstation activities, I think its is reasonable to expect interdependent creativity. If you remember my discussion of envisioning on the Arithmetic page you can imagine the levels upon levels of understanding possible with counting cards.
Here are examples of my 50 box collection of interesting things to count with or make sets that represent a number. I especially like objects that have two types, e.g., washers and nuts, red pompoms and face pompoms. I invite you to imagine a workstation container showing up in April, after months of fun designing and puzzles with a little box of stuff, the numeral 4 printed on cards, and a plastic bag of small sheets of black construction paper. Of course, the children will mess around, probably making different designs or thoughtful arrangements, but if a child happens to put four on a black paper, the adult takes note. She takes a picture, wonders thoughtfully, prints the picture, brings it to group time, and puts it in the box, too. When children are well along making many sets of four, she comment on the subsets displayed. “This one has one red and three white. This one has two red and two white.” Boxes change each week. When the white tiles rotate in, a baggie of white squares of the same size and glue sticks appear. With the tape dispenser handy, those glued arrangements of four can be displayed on the wall nearby. A few weeks later the numeral five is in the container.
Sorting and Classifying
Sorting is the physical act of moving objects into sets that share a similar characteristic.
Classifying is labeling that characteristic.
Here are examples of my 50 box collection of items to sort. I start with one box of sortable items and several drawer organizers like this one, hoping that one or two children will spontaneously place things in some organized way.
If I see a child seem to take care with the placement, I guess that some idea is guiding the sort. “That’s interesting. I’d like to take a picture of what’s in your trays, if that is OK with you.” click “There it is in the picture. I wonder what made you do it that way.” The nice thing about the “I wonder…” formulation, rather than a direct question, is that it makes no demand. If a child wants to tell you, she can. If she doesn’t or can’t classify her sort, nothing negative is implied. It is also the most authentic way to phrase one’s curiosity. I print the image to add to the workstation container. Since there are so many different ways to sort these items, a single model is hardly restrictive.
If no one bites that week, I could choose to offer a different box or wait a month.
Essentially, sorting and classifying adds depth to workstations. I don’t care if children sort and classify in preschool. In my experience the assessment of sorting and classifying can wait until the children are seven years old; maybe by eight the ability to sort the same set of items in different ways would be important for everyone to acquire.
Gathering materials is fun on vacation. You only need around 30 items to put in a box.
RUBBER BAND SCALES
I cut off the top of a two-liter bottle, punch three holes near the rim with a paper punch, tie three strings together in a knot, hold that knot at the bottom of the bottle, thread the ends up through the punched holes, and retie them at the top. A strip of tape around the bottle holds the string in place. I loop heavy rubber bands together, enough of them to stretch to the floor from whatever I can find to hang them from, usually a bar or broom handle taped across a gap from one tall bookcase to another. I offer kitchen canned goods or boxed goods and various sizes of rocks to put in the scales. Things that are light, such as feathers, seem uninteresting.
Although children may not understand much about weight before elementary school, young children can find this visual stretching toward the floor another view of “heavy.”