The Joy of a Pocket-sized Cotton Ten Frame

21 October 2017 · 2 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, Maths Outdoors

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Tens frames have has a surge in popularity in recent years as greater awareness grows about the need for children to have time exploring maths concepts using concrete materials. Thinking, reasoning and realising the patterns that objects make which can be linked to our number system are all part of the attraction of a ten frame. In particular, ten frames help developing an understanding of place value. A useful brief overview can be found here to this effect.

Naturally I have been exploring the outdoor potential of such a nifty little resource. My issue is that I don’t really like being bogged down with loads of stuff. So remembering laminated sheets on top of other paraphernalia is a bit much for my weight-sensitive feelings. To this effect, for the past couple of years, I’ve had the joy of using a tens frame which can be folded up and kept in a pocket – thanks to permanent mark pens and calico cotton, I’ve been able to do a wee cottage industry creating these. After various experimentations, I’ve come to prefer a 20cm x 50cm frame which strikes a nice balance between being too small to fit found objects onto and too big to be cumbersome.

There is something quite magical about taking a little white bit of cloth out of your pocket and presenting it to children. The reverse is blank so equally useful when no lines are needed for games, art work and so on. One of the nicest things to do is to leave the ten frame somewhere outside and simply encourage children who find something interesting to place it in the ten frame and see what treasures are found. This can lead into many different maths and other games, the range of which is quite remarkable.

You can see from the patterns above and below that it works well for symmetry work. Once child can create a line and his or her partner has to find and copy the layout of the objects. The level of accuracy expected can depend upon the ability of a child.

Once of the most interesting investigations I witnessed was from a seven-year old who observed whenever he moved his collection of six stones, the number of stones always remained at six and the number of blank spaces were always four. This is a lovely demonstration that this child was learning about conservation of number and how the  number of objects was not affected by their layout.

Naturally this can lead on to exploring the range of “pattern of six” that can be created on one ten frame. The photos don’t show the complete range (and please note the wee word pun – I used the Frames app to create the collages).

This type of comment can lead into exploring other number pattern variations. Is there a link between the number of layouts which each number can make?

It’s also interesting from a subitising perspective. Very often children can instantly recognise the standard tens layouts – look at Numicon for example – but struggle to subitise when the objects become more random. Try it and see.

Finally a lovely activity outside is to ask children to develop their own games and activities around the use of a ten frame. What ideas do your children have?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Becci October 23, 2017 at 09:48

I really like this idea, so much open ended potential. I’d like to make some of these though I’m not very crafty- what’s the difference between calico cotton and other cotton- also where do you source it?


Juliet Robertson October 24, 2017 at 05:31

Hi Becci

Thanks for your comment. Calico cotton is unbleached cotton and unfinished and without dyes. It comes in various weights and I tend to go for the lighter weight where a choice exists. You can buy it from almost any haberdashery store or textile department. It’s used in a lot of cotton shopping bags.

Hope this helps.


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