The cupcake pans were standard 12-cake pans. The paper liners came in three designs: striped, teal blue, and gold. And we were getting ready to celebrate the end of Anna's fourth trip around the sun.
I presented Anna with the task and the materials and how she proceeded was entirely of her own design. She took the striped cupcake liners and counted out loud as she put them in the pan: "1, 2, 3, 4." Then she took the blue cupcake liners and continued, "1, 2, 3, 4." Lastly, the yellows were put in, "1, 2, 3, 4." She continued to line the next pan and the next.
I listened and looked. When she had started, she worked across the short rows of the pan. Counting four cupcake liners she filled the row of three and then worked up to place the fourth one in the next row. With the next type of liner she continued on the second row, filling two more before placing numbers three and four in the third row. Finally, with the last color, she counted "1, 2, 3, 4," and filled in the rest of the cupcake pan.
In the third pan her pattern changed. Instead of snaking back and forth across the rows, she worked with columns. "1, 2, 3, 4," fill each column with a different-patterned cupcake liner.
When I asked her about her work I started with, "why did you do four of each color?" She responded sensibly, "because I'm turning four." When I asked her to tell me about her patterns she said, "I went here and then here and then here..." pointing me through each spot on each pan. And when I asked why it was different for the third cupcake pan she said, "because that is where I put them."
Now, I'm a firm believer that play is enough. But I also believe that having an open and authentic dialog about what your young child does can provide some awesome learning opportunities. So I hope it is obvious that I didn't expect much more than what she offered...but I do believe that her work represented notable pre-math skills.
To me her patterns represent preschool multiplication, which is something she's been working on as of late. I believe that what she said and what she did is evidence of pre-math learning. What really piques my interest is the timing and nature of the learning materials:
- The cupcake pans were standard 12-cake pans.
- The paper liners came in 3 designs: striped, teal blue, and gold.
- And we were getting ready to celebrate the end of Anna's 4th trip around the sun.
When she turned three would she have had a similar learning experience if we had four patterns of cupcake liners? When she turned two, six patterns? When she turns six, two patterns? At what point would she spontaneously devise a a beautiful preschool math lesson for herself? And how can we extend it (and should we)?
I will go back to "play is enough." I will consider it sufficient that I said (in all honesty), "I like the patterns you chose. Tell me how you did it!" and "Look at the math learning!" And I will enjoy her learning in all its glory.