CMNetwork E-bulletin: November 2015

    © Copyright M. Worthington & E. Carruthers 2012

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CONTEXT: Maps and plans: pretend play and imagination

Triggered by Isaac’s interest in maps, Isaac and David created a large plan of a road layout.

Making lines Isaac announced, ‘These are roads crossing other roads’. He then drew a square with a series of lines, ‘These are arrows to say ‘go this way’.’ He drew another square on another part of the paper, ‘This is the car park gate; the square on the outside means it’s shut.’ The following day Isaac ‘opened’ the gate by making the two horizontal lines [across it]. Together they created imaginary accidents and problems with the vehicles such as crashes. David’s helicopter rescued the people (little wooden play people), while Isaac stood them all up in a crowd ‘to watch’. Pointing, Isaac explained, ‘here’s where you can park your lorries for 2 hours while you sit on the beach'. Then David referred to the charge for the car park: ‘We’re going to have signs to say what the speed limit is’.

This example is particularly interesting for its evidence of the boys’ abstract thinking through their explorations with symbols. For example drawing a square to signify the gate to the car park, Isaac ‘opens’ it the following day by adapting his symbol. Isaac also uses arrows to indicate direction. He uses spoken words to signify the meanings of his symbols: ‘these are arrows to say ‘go this way’; the square on the outside means it’s shut.’

This ability to invent and adapt symbols and signs stands the children in good stead when they later work on mathematical operations. Worthington and Carruthers refer to children’s use of arrows as ‘narrative actions’ (2003). Children sometimes choose to use arrows to indicate the operation of adding or subtracting items (Hughes 1986), some also using them in place of the symbols for ‘add’ or subtract’, (Carruthers and Worthington 2006; 2005). Poland et al. describe arrows as one of a number of ‘dynamic schematisations’, which children use to signify transformation, movement or change: they argue that such symbols should be given emphasis in early childhood since they underpin ‘most mathematical activities’ (2009: 310). .


  • Explorations with symbols

Gallery 7: The emergence of graphic symbols and texts in pretend play
Gallery 8: Children's graphic symbols and texts in self-initiated contexts.


Publications - New in 2015:

Carruthers, E. (2015). Listening to children's mathematics in school. In Perry, B., A. MacDonald and A. Gervasoni. Eds. Mathematics and Transition to School: International Perspectives. Sydney, Australia: Springer

Worthington, M. (2015). Mathematics and the ecology of pretend play. In. J. Moyles. Editor. The Excellence of Play. 4th Edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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October 2015

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