OCTOBER IS THE PERFECT TIME TO HELP CHIEDREN FEEL they are becoming an organized group. They're getting to know one another and beginning to remember group-time rules and routines. As they relax into the routine, this can also be the time when management issues arise. These issues can include everything from getting children to group time, to keeping them involved, to dismissing them!

It takes a great deal of focus for the children in a class to work well together as an organized group. Adding fun group games to the process will help. Read on for a collection of fun and simple math games to keep your group time running smoothly!

Gathering Games

The first useful organizational skill children can learn is the ability to come to your gatherings in a timely, orderly and FUN way. The trick is to make the activity so interesting that their curiosity will get them going!

Find a "Meeting Buddy." Just before group time, secretly pass out sets of stickers for children to stick on their clothing. Use two of each picture so that there will only be one match per sticker. When it is time to gather for group, play some music and ask children to move gracefully around the room, looking for their matching meeting buddy. When they find each other, they can dance off to find a place to sit together in the circle! At the beginning of the meeting, extend the math-matching by inviting the buddies to look for some other way they match. Perhaps they are either girls or boys, or both are wearing pants, or both have a nose! Each time you play this game, encourage children to find more and more ways that they match.

It's About Time! Sometimes the hardest part about gathering children is getting them to stop what they are doing in a timely fashion. Set a wind-up count-down timer for two minutes and announce that when the timer goes off, it will be time to come to group. Then, when children arrive at the circle, pass out numeral cards in the order of their arrival. When everyone is there, review the cards in order. You can introduce ordinal numbers by reading the cards from first to 18th. This is highly motivating, since, as you well know, most young children want to be FIRST at everything! Extend the activity by using the timer to see how long it takes everyone to get to group. Record your times and see if you can improve them.

Attendance Games

Seeing how many are "here" helps children understand the changing configurations of the group. It also invites them to explore the diversity of the group in a mathematical way.

Counting Off. Ask how many children are here today. You can count the group in different ways. The process of counting off around the circle can be difficult for children but, if you make it tangible and fun, they learn very quickly! Try using large beads and a shoelace to string one bead for each child. Pass the string around the circle as you add the beads so children can count as the beads go on! Another way is to ask children to stand up as you count off. The process of standing gives a kinesthetic connection and tangibility to the counting. Eventually you can use number cards for each child so that they can see the number as they say it.

People Patterns. Patterning is an essential math skill, basic to comparing, estimating, counting, adding, and subtracting. You can use it in your attendance-taking as a way to count the children in the group. To start, lay out a simple pattern of shapes on the floor such as circle, square, circle, square, circle. "Read" and say the pattern together. Ask, "Can we make a pattern with people in the class as we see who is here today?" You will need to demonstrate the beginning of the pattern. For example, ask one child to stand, the next to sit, the next to stand, and so on. Then invite children to add themselves to the line in the correct pattern. Next, ask them to say the pattern as they sound off: stand, sit, stand, stand, sit, stand, and so on. Count off the people in the pattern, too. Invite children to suggest different patterns each day!

Management Games

What are the two top management issues at group time? Getting children to listen and to take turns! The following two math games will help with both.

Count Down to Blast Off! Surprising as it may seem, the simple practice of starting a backwards countdown from 10 will encourage children to listen and attend in no time. If children are getting too restless or noisy, simply start by using an official-sounding NASA voice and saying, "Blast off to meeting is T-minus 10 seconds. 10, 9, 8 ..." and so on. Children usually chime in quickly and enjoy creating a fun motion for saying BLAST OFF. Then quickly engage them in your chosen activity while you have their full attention.

The Number Box. This simple box filled with number cards, blocks, or sponges can be used as a turn-taking aid. Place a simple matching number line in your group-time area so children can match their number and know when their turn will happen. Children who want a turn to share during group time can reach inside the box and take out a numeral.

Dismissal Games

Moving on to the next activity can require just as much magic as getting there. Here are a few dismissal games that will help children transition out of group time.

One Child, Two Children. Use the traditional "One Potato, Two Potato" chant to encourage counting and moving! You can use an interesting object to pass around the circle, or one large potato, of course. Teach children the chant. Explain that when the rhyme stops on the word MORE, whoever is holding the object can go to the next activity or lineup. If you're in a hurry, you can dismiss all the children who have counted with the potato numbers 1 to 7 and the MORE. Then begin the chant again with the children who are left:

One child, Two children

Three children, Four

Five children, Six children

Seven children, More!

It's Dicey! Children are fascinated with dice-and they are a wonderful way to introduce numeration. Make a giant die out of a large square of Styrofoam, sponge or a small box. Place dots (1 through 6) on the sides. Invite children to take turns rolling the die to see how many children can go with them to the next activity. For a variation, have children use a set of dice to see how many steps they can take to go on to the next activity. Keep rolling the dice until they get there!