Instructions for Workshop Leaders

by Carol Seefeldt, PhD

1 Goals

  • To increase teachers' understanding of the value of manipulative play.
  • To design meaningful, thoughtful, multi-sensory play experiences for children of differing ages.
  • To emphasize the connection between play and the knowledge and skills children will need later in life.

2 In Advance

  • You'll need a flip chart and markers.
  • Ask teachers to read the handout (pages 15-16).
  • Have teachers observe children playing with manipulatives (small blocks, pegboards, cubes), playing board games, and playing circle games. Ask them to record instances in which children used counting or other mathematical ideas as they played. (They may want to refer to the handout for ideas.)
  • Ask teachers to also take an inventory of the manipulative tools and toys they have available for children and make a list of those that they would like to have.

3 Begin the Workshop

Begin by asking teachers to discuss their observations of children's play with manipulatives. Do they have any examples of children counting or using other mathematical concepts as they played? Were children classifying, comparing, or making patterns with blocks or pegs? Focus for a few minutes on the mathematics involved in playing board or group games. Did teachers observe children counting, taking turns, or using simple algorithms as they added or took away? Which board or circle games seemed to foster children's thinking and problem solving?

Discuss the teacher's role in manipulative play. Begin with the questions in the handout. Should teachers intercede if children are arguing about the size of a block tower or should they let children alone, and why? Many theorists, including Piaget and Vygotsky, believe that when children are able to figure things out for themselves they learn more efficiently.

Continue the discussion by asking teachers how much they believe they should control children's play activities. Should they simply set up a colorful, stimulating environment or should they plan for children to participate, and how?

Conclude the discussion by taking a few moments to focus on the role of the computer as a manipulative play activity. How can the computer be used to foster children's hands-on, manipulative play?

4 Continue the Workshop

Talk about the manipulatives available in the center and those that teachers would like to have. Solicit ideas about the type and design of manipulatives, keeping in mind the need for clean lines, attractive colors, and aesthetic design. Manipulatives should also be openended, allowing children to experiment.

5 Conclude the Workshop

To conclude the workshop, have the group discuss a response to a parent who may ask: "But all they do is play. How is that going to help them in the world of 2020?"

Remind teachers that one thing we know about the future is that society will need workers who can think and solve problems. When children play with manipulatives or other open-ended materials, they are thinking. Given manipulatives and open-ended materials, children are the ones who must set goals, find ways to achieve them, and monitor their thinking as they struggle to reach their goals. In the end, they are the ones who experience the joy and satisfaction of achievement. This joy will motivate children to meet the challenges of learning as they grow and mature.

About the Author

Carol Seefeldt, PhD, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland, College Park, and visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, has worked in early childhood education for more than 30 years.