“Let Me Play,” Said Adults Everywhere!

Yesterday was an incredible day! I got to meet and spend time with three of my biggest educational inspirations: Helen Chapman, Laurel Fynes, and Julie May. Through blog posts and tweets, these three have taught me so much about the Reggio approach, the value of play-based and inquiry learning, and the remarkable capabilities of even our youngest learners. While there is so much that I could blog about from yesterday, our visit made me realize something that I’ve never really thought about before: the benefits of playing/tinkering/creating are not just for kids.

It was just after arriving at Helen’s house yesterday, that I started playing a game of Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe with her six-year-old daughter. Wow does this game get you thinking! While playing, I could help but make the links between this game and spatial awareness and patterning skills.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

Thanks Helen for the photograph of our Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Board.

During our game time, Laurel happened to make this comment — originally Plato’s words — which Helen reminded me of this morning:

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

Helen created this in Word Swag/Fragment.

In many ways, this quotation was put to the test yesterday, as we continued to play and tinker. After finishing this Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe Game, Helen’s younger daughter showed me how to play Fox and Hounds. This game has the fox trying to move across the chess board as the hounds try to block its way. The fox can move in both directions though, and the hounds can only move forwards. Again, thinking and spatial awareness skills are required, as both the fox and hounds strategize to win.

Helen surprised us by purchasing enough blank game boards for each of us to create our own Fox and Hound Game. She even drew out a sketch to help with determining the correct measurements to use. With a table full of loose parts and art supplies, we got immersed in playing/tinkering/creating.


Thanks Helen for this photograph of your table of supplies.

While we did spend some time just talking, it’s amazing how much more we learned about each other and how the conversation continued to flow, as we played. It was even interesting to see our approaches to the same problem. We all wanted to create one of these game boards, but what supplies would we use? How would we attach them to the board?

  • Helen decided to use the coloured tape with a backing, so that she could measure and cut the tiles, and then peel them off to put on the board. She figured out that the tape was 2 inches wide, but the tiles needed to be 1 inch. No problem! She just divided the amount in half, and cut the tape through the middle. There was some extra room around the outside of the board, but a little extra tape (this time a different colour) made a lovely border.
  • Julie went with a similar approach. She wasn’t sure that her measurements were quite as accurate, but she started in the middle to affix the tiles, and then checked and measured, and checked again, to make a pretty border for her board as well.
  • Laurel used ribbon to map out a board to start. When she got a feel for what she wanted her board to look like, she used a ruler and a pencil to accurately draw each of the squares. Then she used markers to colour in the squares, creating a final board much like a real chess board.
  • I was not as accurate or patient as my friends. Instead of waiting for the ruler, I took the tape and measured the full length of one side of the board, and then I doubled this to get enough tape for the whole board … and maybe a little extra. I then folded the tape through the middle because I knew that I needed 1 inch tiles instead of 2 inch ones. At this point, I asked Helen for one of her tiles, marked off the size of it on the back of my tape, and then folded the tape back and forth so that the whole row was 1 inch squares. I cut along the lines — or kind of close to them — to create my tiles. Helen helped me find the middle of my board, with the help of a ruler, but I must have made a mistake somewhere, for despite starting in the middle to affix the tiles, my borders along the outside were not the same size. I’m going to call this board, Fox And Hound-ish. 🙂 It’s a good reminder of why standard measurement may reign supreme. 🙂
My Fox And Hound Game Board

My Fox And Hound Game Board

The amount of math, thinking, and problem solving displayed and explicitly discussed during this creation time was amazing. The truth is that I’m not much a tinkerer. While Helen has rooms full of supplies to create and experiment with, I’ve never even thought of spending time at home doing this. Now I’m starting to wonder the value in adults playing/tinkering/creating more.

Look what Helen created just after I left! Thanks for tweeting this out, Laurel!

I have visions now of a Maker Staff Meeting. Imagine a set-up much like Helen’s house. Would the ability to make things, take them apart, and add light or sound help inspire educators to see what else is possible in the classroom? Coding could even be a component of this. As we play, we can also discuss the curriculum links and the links to learning already happening in the classroom. I wonder what we might bring back and try out with our students. 

I’m thinking now of Paul Hatala‘s introduction to our Board’s recent Summer Institute Technology session. He spoke about the roll out of the Board’s Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and the importance of putting iPads in the hands of the teachers first. They need to see what’s possible and feel comfortable with the technology before using these devices with students. Maybe the same is also true for playing and tinkering. Do we need to engage in this time first to see the value for our kids? How might this change our practices? What do you think? Many thanks to Helen, Laurel, and Julie for giving me an opportunity to think, play, tinker, create, and learn!


6 thoughts on ““Let Me Play,” Said Adults Everywhere!

  1. Aviva,

    Those games look amazing! I have never heard of them before. Can you expalin the ultimate tic-tac-toe please. For the fox and hounds you said the fox can move forward and side to side – can they move on borh coloured squares? Hounds are just on one colour and can only move forward? May want to make and play these with my own kids.

    Sounds like play and exploration was fun!

  2. I love the game boards! Thanks for sharing. Right now I am wondering if my grade five students could make the game boards for themselves to play . Or should I tinker and make them? Also where could I find the game instructions and maker instructions if your friend is willing to share? Thanks Aviva
    I enjoy your blog.

    • Thanks Carla! The Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe game board and instructions are here: http://mathwithbaddrawings.com/ultimate-tic-tac-toe-original-post/. As for the Fox and Hound instructions, they’re embedded in the post and in my reply to Sarah. You could use a chess game board (or even a Checkers board, I think). We used Jenga pieces to make the game pieces, but chess pieces would work too. If you did four of one colour and type for the hounds, and a different colour and type for the fox.

      While I think your 5’s could make these games, I wonder if it would be better to make them first, and then spend the time on strategizing/playing. The fox and hound game could align with the grid expectations in math. You may be able to link the Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe game to some patterning ideas/expectations. Depending on your focus, you may wish to modify the games to better align with expectations. They could also be fun indoor recess options.

      Happy playing!

  3. Aviva,

    In true form, I had to read, leave, and revisit before I could truly give you my appreciation.
    And that’s exactly why I love this post – while you say the concept of teachers needing to play (“mess about”) may have seemed new, you are my model of an observant and reflective learner. Yesterday you noticed the ways we approached the task differently, and thus how our results reflected our process and therefore our thinking.
    I worry sometimes if (during whole-class project lessons) students’ questions may be missed during process phase, unless they explicitly demonstrate a need for help. I mean: the topic is explained to all, but then the important part, the ways in which students approach the task and differentiate for themselves like we did, if all that rich expression of figuring out is lost in the assessment of learning.
    Thus it is the finished product that is used to judge the learning… just look at how deep your inquiry into the games have gone. Your board isn’t “ish”, it is first step. Subtle difference? I don’t think so. A student who feels judged after a first step, or maybe I should say feels “done” (time to move on to next topic/project/assignment) doesn’t deepen their understanding. Only by following the questions that come up during the process can inquiry emerge. And that is why I love your post – you made your learning visible, and helped me reflect upon my own, as well. Am I that cautious? I’m not, with loose parts. And that’s why I so adore ephemeral art and block play… When it’s permanent, I think about the risk of failure and take much more time and care. Look at that, I just learned something by playing with you.
    What a fantastic day, big thanks to Helen. Let’s do it again, soon!

    • Thanks for your comment, Laurel! I love hearing things from your perspective. Your point about process versus product is so important. I’m so glad that you mentioned that my Fox and Hound Board could be a “first step.” I’ve read many professional resources this summer that spoke about “revisiting previous projects.” I thought about the fact that my students usually need lots of encouragement to revisit their work, but maybe, I also do. I wonder if this game board could almost act as an example/model for revisiting work. Maybe at some point this year, the children could help me figure out what to add or change, and I could even mention to them that it was your “first step” comment that inspired me to revisit my work (which it did). I wonder if students rarely revisit work because we don’t always model the need or provide the opportunities. This is something I’d like to change.

      Let me also echo your thanks to Helen! I’m so grateful for Thursday’s visit!

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