Thinking outside the box…


A week or so ago I talked about the matchbox challenge –where you give children a matchbox and ask them to put ‘the most’ of whatever they choose in it. The boys thought this was a fab idea and rushed off around the inside of the cottage and outside in the garden. They argued, they fussed, they acted as if their whole life depended on finding things small enough to put in it but most of all they were really tickled by the idea and it lighted something in their brains.

My boys are totally different in character and this activity really shows this. Oliver took ‘the most’ to heart and wanted to fill it with as many tiny things as he could. He used the unit blocks for the Dienes maths apparatus we have at home, he then moved onto petals from the large daisy type plant in the garden and each time he added something he was carefully calculating how many things he had in the box and I could hear ’25, 26, 27… ‘ and ‘…56, 57, 58’. Henry also focused on how many things but didn’t really take account of the size of an item. He wanted to put flowers in his box so he picked whichever ones he liked and then stuffed them in the box. You can see in the picture that his box is the one at the bottom that is bent and creased as he made sure it would still open and close. Tobes, well, Tobes always does his own thing and didn’t really care about how many things he had in his box. Yes, he’s only 3 and that needs to be remembered but he found some gorgeous purple flowers and just put a couple of those in. That was that and he was happy. I do find it interesting that they went for the flowers again when they could have chosen anything they wanted – stones, Lego, leaves ect. There is something about the flowers that they like to go back too…

They came in and emptied their boxes and showed everyone what they had. Oliver immediately declared himself the winner as he had, technically, the most but I said I was yet to open mine. They were all intrigued especially when I opened it and there was nothing in it. Oliver ‘said ‘yesssss’ and punched the air as he was still the winner. I said ‘well, whilst you were outside I filled my box with lots of kisses and I really can’t count how many there are in there…’

They weren’t impressed in the slightest and I did feel it was a bit of an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ kind of situation.

I shamelessly took the idea from a poster on my facebook page when I chatted about the matchbox idea. I thought it was a fabulously different way to think about ‘the most’ idea but my boys thought I was just trying to hoodwink them. Maybe because I do pull their legs quite a bit and now they are beginning to not believe me when I say something that challenges what they think they know.

Last week we visited the Science Museum and after a busy time pulling, prodding, looking at and trying out all the exhibits we visited the gift shop bought ‘something small’ and then left. The ‘something small’ was a little like ‘the most’ idea of the matchbox activity. It wasn’t a specific thing or amount of something and they did have trouble with having little parameters. I narrowed it down by saying ‘it has to be carried home on the train and there are 3 of you…’ this did help a bit and one settled on some paper airplanes, one wanted a book and the other wanted a sticky man and some jumping beans.

Once outside there soon developed a ferocious argument about who had ‘the most’. Apparently it was Tobes as he had 2 jumping beans in his packet as well as a sticky man so that made 3 things and that was ‘unfair!!!’ After giving them a dressing down on being grateful, not being spoilt and telling them that ‘I should really go and take it all back!!!’ (I apologise if you were the man with his daughter that overheard all this by the way) I told the boys if they looked on the amounts as cash spent then Ollie with his book of £5.99 (read on the way home on the train so that wasn’t really value for money when you read as much as Ollie does) and Henry’s paper airplanes of £3.99 completely beat Tobes’ sticky man for 50p and jumping beans for £1.50. I asked them ‘who had the most now??’

I was furious as their ‘spoiled bratness’ but it did clearly show that children have trouble with judging amounts when it comes to different ways of thinking about ‘the most’. This is especially difficult when they perceive, however incorrectly, that someone simply has more than them. They don’t normally act like that and it’s something I don’t want to happen again…

The matchbox activity has been fun; it’s made us all think about things we haven’t really thought about before. It’s also made me realise that I take for granted that huge concepts like ‘the most’ my boys will just naturally figure out and I’ve learned that this just isn’t the case. This is a slow burner for my boys, something that we’ll keep coming back to and revisiting as they slowly learn to think around an idea and come at it from a different angle. I’m hoping that their thinking won’t all be contained in a box that’s a metaphor for a narrow mind. I’m hoping their thinking gets outside the box…

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About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
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