A circle of chairs and a box of tricks

This was Purple Patch’s third week in schools and when Vicky and Fran arrived at the first class of the day, the chairs were ready in a circle, awaiting their arrival.  The staff and children were anticipating the visit.  As the children came in from the playground, they wandered curiously past the props sitting on the classroom table – the circle and chairs and a box of tricks changes something in the room, there is a sense of anticipation alongside a sense of familiarity now.


This was the first session focused on Maths.  Fran asked: “do you like maths?” and was met with a chorus of muted groans.  Undeterred, Fran pushed on: “you’ll like this maths”.

First to appear from the box of tricks were large polystyrene dominos, Fran handed them round the circle, some of the children spontaneously began to count the dots, others smelled and felt them, Zeb threw his to his friend.  Were they dice, were they dominos?  Once the children had finished exploring them, Fran pointed to the dots on a domino and counted them with the children.

Pointing out the line on the middle of the domino, Fran put a piece of off white shiny ribbon on the floor – “this is the line on the domino, can we be the dots?”.  For the first piece, Zeb was put in charge “for the next five minutes, you are in charge Zeb, you can tell people what to do, even the staff”.  Zeb enthusiastically organised the other children and staff to re-create the dots on the domino with people on the floor.  This was repeated several times so that different children were ‘in charge’.

Karen was a reluctant dot until her teacher took her gently by the hand and stood with her; when Kelly didn’t want to move her electric wheelchair forward, her teacher moved the ribbon line on the floor so Kelly became part of the number pattern.  Applause and laughter filled the room each time the children’s bodies matched the number pattern on the dominos.


The teacher said: “We could do play this game [another time without Purple Patch]”.

Returning to the box, Fran pulled out four picture cards with the logos for fast food restaurants on them: KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut.  Each child was given a purple counter and encouraged to put their counter on their favourite fast food outlet. The pictures prompted talk about favourite food and favourite restaurants.

The children were encouraged to count the counters on the pictures – which was the favourite restaurant?  Which was the least favourite?  Which had more? Which had less?  Next Fran covered two of the pictures and asked the children: “how many people like Burger King and McDonalds?”  She repeated this using different combinations of two, then three cards to create addition tasks.  Back to the box and the task was repeated with images of chocolate, and breakfast foods.  The pictures clearly invoked memories of tastes and textures as the children enthusiastically identified their favourite foods.


Back to the box, and this time the children were confronted with a range of tastes, smells, touch, sounds and sights: marmite, the smell of patchouli, slime, the sounds of buzzing bees and a picture of gold shoes.

Karen was hesitant, hiding her head under her jumper as the objects were passed round the circle, but again (see Happy Birthday Shakespeare)  putting her hand on her teacher’s hand meant that she was able briefly to feel the slime, gentle wafting of the patchouli meant that she caught a sense of the smell.


Alison did not taste the marmite but enjoyed the smell, raising her head to get closer to the pot and gently making sounds.

After each taste, touch, smell, sight and sound there was a vote to see who liked and who didn’t like it and these were used to create a bar chart with bricks built by the children.  This was a chance to extend the learning from a counting and adding task to subtraction – how many people liked it?  How many people didn’t?  What is nine take-away two?


And then maths was over, objects back in the box, chairs cleared away.  And the traditional classroom space, filled with desks, began to re-appear.





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