3 to 4 times a week we have Math Centers, after a whole group math mini-lesson, game or activity on the carpet. Usually 3 or 4 tables will be set up with games or math concept based activities. We rotate the centers depending on interest and what math skills we are focusing on. We often introduce new ones, but keep familiar ones in the loop.
This center time ranges from 20-35 mins depending on the interest or focus level of the children on a particular day. Sometimes Dodo or I do sit at one table and lead a focused activity, but most often these centers are for the children to independently explore. Children should be allowed to practice their working theories on the math concept that they are learning, independently-there can be no wrong learning here! Their exploration and play is their work!
It is very interesting to see how different children will utilize one set of cards in multiple ways. One child arranges the cards by numerical order. One child matches same numbers together and another child matches cards by color. Another uses the bear counters and practices one-to-one correspondence. All ways are correct and productive for their learning and at this point in their development, we do not worry whether or not they are correct with their reasoning. Letting the children explore gives them a hands on approach to problem solving their theories. Encouraging children to explore in their own way gives them ownership in their leaning and builds confidence when approaching new challenges. Children work in mix developmental levels. The peer to peer learning is more effect at this age than teacher to student. Watching their friends demonstrate their math thinking encourages children to try new ways to problem solve. They are being exposed to the big idea that learning looks different and that we can learn from each other.
Current math studies have found that children learn best and become more fluent in conceptual math when they can utilize their own algorithms rather than replicating procedural ways of producing math answers. Spending the early learning years exploring math as open-ended,conceptual based and hands on helps create a solid math foundation for problem solving skills later on.