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Get a “Play Buzz” Going with Block Play!

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.


One extremely cold morning, PLUS one extremely curious three-year-old EQUALED an unexpected explosion of mathematical concepts being explored in our classroom. Jamison started the movement with a small ramp and a single car. The fever caught on and soon we had ramps and obstacles being set up all over the room by Jamison and his fellow early math explorers. We had ourselves a PLAY BUZZ going on!

What exactly is a play buzz? It was first explained to me as “a moment during free play when all is good, all is right, all needs are being met and all children are learning.” I would love to give credit to the genius teacher who coined the phrase “play buzz.” It’s a teacher’s dream and, when it happens, you recognize it immediately. These are the moments of movement and learning and exploring and brain-building experiments. These are the moments when you grab your camera and your clipboard and you begin checking off all of the learning standards that those pesky assessments demand.

On this given day, we were exploring the concepts of spatial relationships and geometry. We made predictions, gathered data, studied cause and effect and organized our information to try something new. We were knocking out those Illinois Early Learning Standards by the minute. Math vocabulary was being tossed about in typical preschool language, including the words “up, down, fast, faster, speed, tall, short, in front of, behind, balance, circle, line, flat and corner.” Children need to learn the language of math to think through and solve their math challenges—and then communicate their thought processes to others. When children play and experiment with ramps and cars with their friends, they learn how to problem solve and communicate their thoughts. Problem-solving play helps children develop foundational skills that will be used in math learning in the years to come. When we introduce children to the vocabulary of math, we are building a foundation for future math success. This early math website has a fabulous vocabulary glossary if you’d like to fire up your brain to “hear” the math that is happening in your own classroom during free play.

When these play buzzes happen, the energy in the room will feel calm and focused. This is the perfect time to observe the learning that is underway and document it through photos and/or notes. This is the good, deep learning that connects the synapses in the brain. This is the hands-on learning that builds a strong early math foundation. This is when you start matching up learning standards on assessments with ease and joy! What turns your students on? Observe your students to determine the types of activities that spark a play buzz and then let the learning standards take care of themselves!

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

15 Replies to “Get a “Play Buzz” Going with Block Play!”

    1. Hi Shelby, Those long blocks are our quad blocks from our unit block set. Our set is from Community Playthings, and you can order those specific blocks on their website. They are the first blocks to be pulled out, daily!

  1. Love the phrase “play Buzz”….and also the little wooden people shapes for block and building play

  2. I liked it in video with the baby was eating and he wanted more mom was talking to him that is a way of learning as well.

  3. I’m a big fan of ramps and using all the other props just like you did. I enjoy hearing math language as well and seeing what the children build and how they work together or separately. There is so much math going on I love it.

  4. I love that phrase, play buzz. I love it when that happens. It’s important for teachers to emphasize the vocabulary and elicit children’s thinking as they engage in these activities

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