Thursday, July 16, 2015

Playing With The Rules

In the four-year-old room, several children were using the “hex tiles” – small colored plastic tiles that were originally part of a patterning set, but that the children use mostly as “loose parts”. They sometimes pretend the tiles are food or money, they use them to build and stack, and they often simply arrange them in colorful designs without the constraint of the patterning trays.

Today, that seemed to their activity. After they dumped the basket of tiles onto the rug, they began constructing a winding, curvy line of tiles. Then one of the children brought over a basket of rubber animals – monochromatic, brightly colored animals that were probably designed as counters or math manipulatives. As one child placed tile next to tile, another started to put one animal onto each tile.

Would she match colors? Make patterns?

She announced, “Green on yellow”, and placed a green bear on a yellow tile. Then, “Red on orange”, putting a red frog on an orange tile. “Yellow on yellow.” “Blue on pink”. While one child continued laying out the tiles, first in a line, then in a rectangle, then in an ever growing spread, the other announced the color combination she was creating as she placed each animal on a tile. Eventually, the first child stopped placing tiles and joined her partner. They alternated turns as each child said her color and placed an animal.

Looking at the array of tiles and animals, there was no pattern, no matching, in fact, it seemed like a random arrangement of pieces pushed together into a large group. But having watched the children’s process, it was clear this wasn’t random at all. Working together, two children had devised a game with rules – not the rules of color matching that a teacher would have come up with, but rules nonetheless, as they established a system of placing tiles, pairing a tile with an animal, and announcing their action out loud. And then pausing, so the other child could take her turn.

They weren’t playing a game with rules, they were playing with the rules. They were constructing a concept of what rules are, and inventing a game with very beginning, rudimentary rules. They were playing with and exploring the concept of having rules, and order, and turn taking – all within their control, as they figured out what the rules were, and how the rules worked.

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