A month ago, I wrote about my comfort with my daughter doing something imperfectly. An update happened this week that I want to share with you:

Link to Amazon


Pickle’s birthday was last month, and she was gifted (along with lots of glitter and pink crap) the box of wooden blocks* seen above from my friend Patricia. This week, she asked to play.

Math Teacher Daddy immediately asked, “What do you want to do first?” and hid all the cards. Pickle opted to dump all the blocks out and reassemble them into shapes on her own. I did the dishes while she did that, because unsupervised play is a great way to explore. Then she asked to try a card.

Pickle arranging right trapezoids in the frame, but oriented so they look correct from her perspective, but not a perfect match.

Do you see what I saw immediately?

I sat next to her as she began to stack blocks in the frame. Being an adult, I have no issue translating abstractions into their concrete selves. Pickle is 5.1 years old, and didn’t notice that the slanty part was supposed to be viewable from the top, not the side. Note the yellow blocks below.

Pickle has arranged about half the card, but the 45-degree angles aren't visible from the top.

This took forever. This was our first time playing, and I wanted to touch the blocks, to arrange them into patterns, and to try and find a new way to pattern them. Sitting next to a child and not interfering as they explore is really hard, and as soon as I start moving them around, she’ll follow my lead. So far, she’s directing the play, and that’s important to note, because of what happened next.

My wife (as I’ve mentioned before) had plenty of success in the traditional math class, but is slowly coming around to my philosophy of the modern classroom with multiple and varied means to mastery. She joined us in the kitchen when Pickle was 1/3 of the way done with her first card.

“Honey, use the green one next.”
“Turn it over.”
“You should put the yellow ones together first.”

My … lovely and helpful bride was taking Pickle’s proverbial hand and leading her down a paved path. I want Pickle bushwhacking in the brush and finding her own way.

Pickle and I smiling at the camera.

After Mommy implicitly suggested that Pickle should shoot for perfection on the first try, Pickle began to get frustrated and didn’t want to place a block if it didn’t match the card, which she couldn’t really read anyway. She pushed the frame away and said, “It’s too hard.”

I glared at my wife, who immediately realized what she’d done. Confidence and fun were lost, so I had to restore both, and quickly. “Pickle, I have an idea. How about we do some together? Hand me that pink one.”

Some in the audience will note that our board doesn’t look exactly like the card, to which I say, “Yep! Shush.” Because look how proud that kid is.

I don’t need perfection yet, because enjoyment of the task is more important. We immediately dove into another card.

We built the bottom half first, but when I attempted to spin the box so we could keep the bottom half as our focus, Pickle resisted. Okay. Fine; you’re the boss. Then on to a third card.

Our third card prompted this phrase form Pickle, which comforted me.

I know how these ones go together because I saw how to do the other one.

Then I asked, “Do you want to stop for now?” and Pickle said yes. So we congratulated ourselves as we packed up the pieces. “Wow, honey; you did three cards on your first try? Do you feel proud?”

Of course she said, “Yeah!” whether or not she actually felt it. That’s a path I’m happy to pave: she knows the correct answer to my leading question is “yes!”

And — as expected — someone on Twitter says it better than I:

Think about your own classroom. How quick are you to jump in and pave a path for students to quickly reach perfection? Sure, they’ll reach the answer quickly, but that’s mostly because they followed you. How will they do on an assessment once you’re not leading them? Or when there is no path at all?

Tasks like Pattern Play and the Appetizers found here allow for students to build Number Sense by bushwhacking and using whatever means necessary to reach the goal, and along the way, they’ll build skills and strategies that make the going easier.

Some might say they’re stomping their own paths.


~Matt “The Green Slanties” Vaudrey
UPDATE 14 November 2017: We played again last night and found an interesting situation:

*I called the blocks “right trapezoids” when I first opened the box. Neither my wife nor Pickle were amused, and both insisted they were just blocks.