Purposeful Play in Elementary Mathematics

Posted by Melinda Kolk on Jun 6, 2023 7:45:00 AM

Play is active, engaging, and meaningful for the player. Use play to help get students to make powerful connections to math and engage in effective math practice.

Organized by type of play, these play-based ideas with Wixie can help students build essential numeracy, geometric, and logic skills, while enjoying their adventures with math.

Physical play

Physical play involves gross-motor or psycho-motor skills requiring hand-eye coordination. 

Wixie includes activities like Dig for Treasure and Carve a Petroglyph that mimic gross-motor movements, as well a music activities that include piano keyboards, xylophones and percussion tubes that students can play.

Constructive play

Constructive play, where children build or create things, provides another way to play and have fun while also building hand-eye coordination. Wixie includes a range of constructive play activities students can use that provide them with virtual objects they can drag to:

create art from shapes,
build block castles, or
build tangram shapes.

This type of play can help students build spatial awareness and a deeper understanding of symmetry, congruence, and geometric transformations.

Dr. Henry Olds and Dr. Walter Drew use technology to provide children with the opportunity to play with a significant level of abundance, developing a process of iconic pattern play.

In this process, students first create a pattern play piece and use a digital tool, like Wixie, to move, flip, and rotate it; duplicating the pieces to make patterns and explore variations. As they play, students expand their intentions and gain confidence in their creative process.

Wixie Pattern Play Activity

Language play

Language play uses made up words and rhymes and is often associated with literacy more than math. But math can be easily incorporated into the content of poems and stories and jokes like:

Why was 6 afraid of seven? Because 7 8 (ate) 9!

Use a poem, like A. A. Milne's "Now We are Six" as a model for having students describe the "value" of different ages.

Wixie When I Was One Template

Use a story like The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns to inspire students to personify a mathematical object or concept. The Greedy Triangle template in Wixie can help students retell details from the story and then begin to imagine what shape they would choose to be. 

In addition to shapes, you could also challenge them to describe how infinity looks and feels.

Games with rules

Playing games with rules helps students build self-regulation as they explore boundaries, take turns, and socialize through play. Students can use Wixie for fun games like tic-tac-toe or even create their own board-style games to play with a friend.

Wixie Tic-Tac-Toe Game

Individual games, like Sudoku, can also help students build logic and thinking skills as they work within a set of rules to complete the game successfully. 

wixie-templates-sudoku-septemberEvery month-by-month folder in the Wixie curriculum library includes an easy and medium-difficulty sudoku game. Since students can open Wixie templates independently, these can be great play-based bell ringer activities. 

Wixie also includes a series of games that use rules to both define and extend student thinking, like:

partition shapes
show one-half
make a pattern

For example, students can team together to play a single game, like Use Money, to collaborate or challenge each other to find different ways to use a different set of coins to make the same amount of money.

Wixie Use Money Team Challenge

Fantasy or pretend play

Fantasy, or pretend play, is play in which students use their imagination. We don't often associate math with imagination, but this type of play is often just a short step beyond math practice and other forms of play. For instance, instead of providing students with tangram blocks along with a tangram puzzle to solve, simply provide students with the tangram shapes and encourage them to play with the blocks to arrange them in a new shape.

Wixie Make a Shape Tangram Template

Once they imagine what it is, they can even verbalize a story about their new shape.

Make time for play!

Wixie provides a range of activities and tools students can use to play with math. Give these to students during free time or at centers to help them construct, explore, experiment and have fun with math. No matter how or when, play and wonder can help students deepen their understanding and connection to essential mathematical skills.


Topics: Wixie, play, math

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