Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Building A Foundation Of Exploration

We were on the floor assembling puzzles. A group of three-year-old boys were working together on the "Number Train," a linear puzzle featuring a locomotive pulling 20 cars, numbered from one through 20. It's always among the first selected when we have the floor puzzles out and while that sometimes leads to conflict, yesterday's puzzlers were effortlessly cooperating.

They were excited when the puzzle was completed. They stood together in admiration, surveying the entire length of the train. Then one of them bent over the locomotive and began to count, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten . . . " He paused at 11, then continued, "One with a one beside it, two with a one beside it, three with a one beside it . . ." counting this way all the way to the end where he said, "Two with a zero beside it."

The next boy began his count. He counted right through ten, then, "11, 12, 13 . . . " This is where he paused before continuing, "13, 13, 13, 13, 13 . . ."

A third boy took his turn. Like the others, he was confident with 1-10, then got creative with the higher numbers, "ten and one, ten and two, ten and three, ten and four . . ." When he got to 20, he paused again, finally saying, "Caboose."

I suppose there are some who would say that it was my job to correct the boys, because, after all, there is always a "right" answer when it comes to math, but I said nothing. Instead, I simply witnessed their efforts, just the way I might were they all standing at easels painting trees without correcting the placement of their branches, the color of their leaves, or the type of fruit said trees might produce. Here were children doing mathematics for fun, the way young humans always do before it gets ruined for them by busybodies and their cultish insistence on right or wrong ciphering. Here were children exploring the boundaries of their knowledge, attempting to push it a bit farther, studying, thinking, playing. When there comes a day when being "right" is important, this the foundation of exploration upon which they will build.

The fourth and final puzzler then took his turn. He bent over the locomotive as the others had, pointing to each car as he went. He counted smoothly and confidently up to 20.

The boys then stood together for a moment in silence, each reflecting upon the train or the counting or the teamwork or whatever. Then one of them invited the others, "Let's break it."


"And do it again."


Then they dropped to their knees and laughed as they enjoyed the process of making their order into chaos.

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