Designing a relevant learning experience for children can be both challenging and rewarding. And one of the best ways to do it is by bringing in the play through educational games.
What crosses your mind when you think of the word ‘design’? Captivating colours? Fluid forms? Striking shapes? Trendy typefaces?
While all these elements and more are vital to design, it’s important to note that they all in conjunction serve the bigger purpose of design, and that is to solve a problem. This is exactly what makes designing so relevant, extending its use case to every discipline, one such discipline being the field of education.
From time immemorial efforts have been made to help children learn, especially mathematics. For example, in the 18th century Freidrich Froebel, the German educator, designed wooden toys to introduce play in mathematics. Since then, we have seen innumerable games, puzzles and fun activities to solve the problem of learning for the young.
In this article, Sonia Tiwari throws light on 4 novel ideas of how games and puzzles can be designed to make learning mathematics accessible and fun. Before jumping in let’s understand the two underpinning theories that the four projects are based on. Firstly, Constructionism (Papert, 1980), suggests that children learn by creating artefacts based on mental models. This visualization helps them understand how things work. Secondly, Spiral Curriculum (Briner, 1960) states that children can revisit complex topics as their understanding increases, or that any learning content can be made more accessible if structured and presented well, tailored to the child’s needs.
The other aspect to be taken into account is the type of material being used, the two types being, found material (paper/wood/cardboard/fabric) and fabricated material (3d printing, printing). The kind of material plays a vital role while designing games, especially for the purpose of education. The material needs to be perceived as an element that contributes to the learning experience, either through the various senses, or the ease of usage.
Puzzle 1 – Woodland Explorer, a Textile PlayBook
What can you do with leftover scraps of fabric? The answer is – you can make a wonderfully engaging Textile PlayBook for toddlers!
The cotton textile industry in India is quite large, which means, there is plenty of fabric waste being disposed of. And toddlers from the rural segment, with no access to formal schools, are equally widespread in India. Now imagine solving this problem by bringing the two together to create colourful fabric books of learning wonders.
The Textile PlayBook is designed as an educational playbook, allowing children to interact and engage with various cloth objects within the pages. And through the exploration and discovery, the children learn basic concepts and delve deeper in their imagination. The PlayBook is designed to facilitate versatile learning approaches, thus letting children learn and explore exactly how they please.
Let’s look at the book, Woodland Explorer. Each page has a different story. For example, the “inside view” of the Hedgehog’s home, spread over two pages. The pages have an interesting mix of elements like cheese slices, tomatoes and mushrooms pinned on, letting children create their own story or explore basic mathematic concepts like sorting, grouping and counting.
A Fox and its world are spread over the next two pages. These pages allow the child to ‘pluck’ fruits and collect them in the basket, in the process sorting, arranging and building patterns. Children can unleash their imagination with the Fox character, by even introducing the Hedgehog from the previous page.
The next spread helps children learn to read time from an analogue clock. With materials like Velcro and magnets, the page comes alive with possibilities of interaction.
Apart from basic learning concepts and exploration, children also learn with the sense of touch, or sensory-tactile activities, thus heightening children’s overall learning experience.
Puzzle 2 – Cookie Cutter
This project was designed for a Kindergarten classroom in South Central Pennsylvania, USA, specifically as a teaching aid for a module on fractions. What makes it interesting is the story around it. Since the module was scheduled around Christmas, the emerging puzzle was a hungry Gingerbread man, who wanted to eat cookies – but must be fed only one piece at a time.
The primary learning goal of this puzzle is to help children understand how simple shapes combine to form complex shapes. This also allows children to visualize fractions like halves, one-fourth and wholes, thus crystallizing the concept in their young minds.
The secondary goal is to allow children the freedom to play with the puzzle pieces by combining, stacking or building structures. This practice encourages discovery through exploration.
A. Simple Shape formations: Constructing and Deconstructing Shapes
a. Diamond = 2 triangles
b. Square = 4 smaller squares
c. Square = 2 rectangles
d. Square = 4 triangles
e. Circle = 4 pies
f. Circle = 2 semi circles
g. Rectanglecould be = 2 Squares
h. Rectangle = 4 rectangles
B. Complex Shape formations: Constructing and Deconstructing Shapes
a. Heart = 2 semi-circles + 2 triangles
b. Hexagon = 6 triangles (available separately to fit in the same socket)
c. Hexagon = 2 squares + 4 triangles
a. ¼ + ¼ = ½
b. ¼ + ½ = ¾
c. ¼ + ¼ + ¼ = ¾
d. ½ + ½ = 1
e. ¼ + ¾ = 1
f. ¼ + ¼ + ¼ + ¼ = 1
D. Tangrams – Children can choose to combine puzzle pieces to make their own shapes
E. Structure Building – Children can stack the puzzle pieces to build structures
F. Counting – Children can count the puzzle pieces (up to 45)
G. Sorting – can sort by shape and size, possible to sort by colour if 3d printed in different colours
H. Comparisons – large vs small, wide vs narrow, tall vs short, sharp vs smooth etc
I. Free Play – building stories with the Gingerbread man and cookies, stacking, sorting etc.
Puzzle 3 – Bricksters
When a game is designed around the immediate environment of children, it becomes relevant, and thus accessible. The Bricksters game was designed again for a Kindergarten classroom in South Central Pennsylvania, USA. But this time the game was based on Halloween, the eminent season. The objective of the game is to aid children in understanding the concept of constructing and deconstructing single digit numbers, through the idea of ‘trick and treats’. With the help of the board game, children get familiarized to single-digit addition and subtraction, depending on the trick and treat tiles of the board game. As the game proceeds, the children’s stack of blocks also raise, thus allowing them to visualize the added values.
Puzzle 4- Turtle Pom Pom
This project was designed for toddlers. As the name suggests, children play with glittery turtle-shaped coasters and little colourful pom poms. The idea is to add the pom poms to the coasters to practice concepts like counting, sorting and grouping. The colours and containers provide many opportunities to explore the basics of mathematics.
Clements, Douglas H., and Julie Sarama. 2004. Building Blocks for early childhood mathematics. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19:181–89.
Clements, Douglas H., and Julie Sarama. 2005. Math play: How young children approach math. Early Childhood Today 19:50–57.