Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Folding, cutting, sticking, drawing

I want to write a little about one of the hubs of the classroom.

It's what we call the writing table or drawing table. Which is maybe not the right name for it. A lot more happens than writing and drawing. It could perhaps be called the paper table. It's got a lot of stationery on it. Bits of paper of various sizes, glues, scissors. A lot of cutting, gluing, sticking, folding, stamping and printing happens. A lot of colouring in too. But, these names and simple descriptions aren't really adequate.

It’s 'continuous provision', as we call it: it’s always there, and used every day. I imagine that it extends beyond school too: children often have stationery at home.

Most early years classes have got something like this table. Certainly all four of our pre-K and Kindergarten classes have. This is what continuous provision is all about: a place where children can return again and again and make something, trying out new ideas, combining things they’ve done before, learning from each other.

Since they came to the school when they were three, R and K have been doing this. They're not the only ones, but let's focus on them for now. They're four years old; they've been in Moon class for 15 months. R at first stood out as leader of the duo, always inventive, always relishing what she does. But K seems to be inspired by her to be similarly creative, making things that are distinctive to her, having her own strengths and emphases.

An example, back in September: R's envelope-picture:

What kind of mathematics are present in creating this? An awareness of bringing the corners into the middle of the paper to reorient the square and create triangular flaps. A lot of spatial thinking. An example might be the awareness that when you fold the paper over once, the back of the folded paper faces the same way as the front.  She is probably aware that the orientation of the square changes too: first it was in a 'diamond' orientation, now it's in the conventional orientation. She'll be aware that the small square is made up of four triangles. And that there are diagonal lines across the square that meet in the centre. She's aware that some things can be undone, or almost undone. Pencil can be rubbed out. Cuts can be taped together again. And some things can't be undone. The felt pen drawing can't be rubbed out very easily.

At the same time, K was doing some folding too:

These paper explorations contrast with art activities that use specifically 'art' materials, painting in particular. There seems to be more of a tinkering feel, more mixing. Take R here, where she’s decided to draw round the scissors, drawn and colored in a pill shape, written a little, filled a rectangle…

There's a really strong social element in this. There was a group of girls in Star Class two years ago who all tuned into each other with their drawing and colouring, got more and more confident in that, and continued it into Kindergarten.

There’s also the sense of self-efficacy, of choosing a project, seeing it through to completion, working alongside others and learning from each other. There’s a kind of joy in the workshop ambience, in having control and making together and separately.

Here's some more, this time involving cut-outs:
With this must come some sense of how when you fold and cut, the hole you achieve is not like the cut you made. And a developing understanding of the relationship between the two.

There can be folded-and-cut shapes inside other folded-and-cut shapes:
The smaller shape suggested a watermelon to the girls. It's rare for these creations to be completely abstract; they usually represent something. This is a general feature of a lot of play - mathematics is mixed with creation is mixed with representation is mixed with narrative is mixed is mixed with language is mixed with sociability...

Another day, a butterfly:
Another day, a bird:
Another day, flowers composed of four punched hearts rotated:
What is the role of the adult here? Obviously, we keep the table stocked, and help the students to keep it tidy and organised. In the moment, we chat if it doesn't interrupt the flow of the play and conversation. We appreciate what the students are doing, how they're thinking and experimenting, again in a way that doesn't distract from the flow. We document and share with parents on Seesaw, and often with the class in our meeting times. Sometimes we play alongside too; this usually doesn't lead to much in itself, but allows us to be in the workshop too.

This time I started playing with R's leftovers (I'd asked if that was OK). I started making little 'windows' with the heart holes. R quite liked what I was doing this time, and together we made a picture, incorporating a bear on a trampoline, and also some of the folded and cut squares  that were being made at the table at the same time.
But, it's really not necessary for me to be adding anything in to this process: there's so much happening already: theories being refined, interests pursued, skills honed, and much more. 

We leave approximately the same materials on the table most of the time, and that's its power really. The little squares, the A4 sheets, the scissors, glue, tape and pens are enough for an endless range of operations, and combinations of operations that, the way children use them playfully, become more and more sophisticated.

Other things we provide in the class are more one-off. Putting some flowers in a vase to be sketched, along with the sketching materials. This is valid too, but is not a familiar arena that encourages the independence and agency of the students to develop.

In November, R gave a folded-and cut-out character to P, a boy she hasn't had much direct play or conversation with. One of them stuck the character to a sheet of paper, and P added lots of line drawing background. He carried it around with him for half the day.
I was surprised and delighted that this paper play had become a way of reaching out in friendship.

But maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. These spaces that the students own, which become for them both a laboratory and a language are the natural places for the real events of the class to happen in.

Monday, 3 October 2022

The design cycle, sped up

(just four) began her time with us with a torrent of paintings. She’s now broadened out, and shows a lot of interest in arranging blocks.

On Tuesday she got some of the Unit Blocks out and began making little ‘houses’ - combinations of shapes that went together. She was making, knocking down, sweeping them to one side, and remaking anew, again and again. I sat down and tried to add to the houses, but she was mostly not happy with my additions and my adding them only seemed to speed up the sweeping away and remaking!

Finally, she had a house shape that pleased her.

I was struck anew by something about children’s play that this seemed to exemplify: the rapid movement through iterations, making, destroying, making…

If the results weren’t right, pieces were adjusted, rearranged, added or subtracted, up to a point where, if the whole was unsatisfying it was swept to the side and the ground laid bare to build a new thing. It’s like the design cycle, but speeded up:

The checking and thinking is so fast, so much during the making, that it doesn’t stand out as a distinct stage, it’s all there in the making. The only other - brief - stage that is separate is the knocking down and sweeping blocks to the side.

I’m thinking of this, from Alison Gopnick’s great book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: "by four, fully 66 percent of calories go to the brain". Children are thinking fast, making connections rapidly. And they’re doing a lot of the thinking with their hands. 

Again, on Friday, this time working with Kapla and little wooden people, A was creating and recreating, remodeling her house again and again  to better please her. 

After about twenty-five minutes, the finished house satisfied her. There were bedrooms for all the adults to sleep in, in groups that she found satisfying. The children appear to have some kind of dormitory thing going on:

This rapid-fire remodelling is maybe a kind of superpower of the four-year old. While 66% of their energy is going to the brain, they can move quickly between experiences, ‘breaking’ (or leaving) whatever doesn’t seem to work. 

Though there was a rapid movement in the making,  A stuck with the project from 9:52 to at least 10:16 - there’s a time stamp on the photos.

It strikes me that this is characteristic of young children, how they move from one activity to another quickly. Maybe it’s a quick evaluation: is this the optimal possibility now? Could I be getting more from doing something else? We adults might mistake this for an inability to concentrate, or some kind of hyperactivity. But it seems to be just the brain’s optimal learning path. There’s no need to leave a trail, to have a distinct and visible evaluation or planning stage. Both are integrated into the making. There’s no need to document the process. We teachers might see a reason to do this, but children tend to just move on quickly. A doesn’t even seem to care too much about the ‘end’ product being put away. 

I would propose that A is demonstrating all these IB PYP "attitudes to learning" below, all almost at the same time in the course of her selection and placement of the blocks and people, and the conversation she has as she does it. The separate elements are not visible as separate but they are all present as she places and replaces elements:



What students do

Thinking skills

Critical thinking


►Observe carefully.

►Find unique characteristics.

►Consider meaning taken from materials and events.

►Synthesize new understandings by seeing relationships and connections.


►Organize information

►Evaluate evidence.

►Test generalizations, strategies or ideas.

Forming decisions

►Revise understandings based on new information and evidence.

►Draw conclusions and generalizations.

►Apply rules, strategies and ideas from one context to another.

Creative thinking

Generating novel ideas

►Use discussion and play to generate new ideas and investigations.

►Make unexpected or unusual connections between objects and/or ideas.

    Practice some “visible thinking” routines (Ritchhart, Church and Morrison 2011).

Considering new perspectives

►Seek information.

►Consider alternative solutions, including those that might be unlikely or impossible, in play and other situations.

►Ask “what if” questions. Practise some “visible thinking” routines.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

From back behind them

 We've got a set of Unit Blocks in Sun Class and a set in Moon Class.

R and K were playing with them, and also with some of the wooden story figures, and a gorilla.

Sometimes, the building came to the fore.
Sometimes, it was the story telling and acting out with the small-world figures. R's mum later told me that R had watched King Kong in the summer.

Other people, including me, were also contributing to the Unit Block construction.
R was kind of telling a story as the characters acted it out.
Normally, it's the students who ask me if I can write down stories for them ("helicopter stories"). This time I asked. R and K told this story together, with R leading the way:

"They all heard the noise from back behind them. They turned round. They all jumped when they saw King Kong."

I was really struck by this part. It describes a moment of surprise in a way that the PK students stories usually don't. And the surprise hinges on a spatial arrangement. At first the character blocks were facing away from King Kong, not conscious of his presence. Then they turn around, and only then do they realise to their shock that King Kong is there.

We often act out our stories together, and acted out this one as I read it out. Again, there was the dramatic moment of all turning round and seeing that King Kong was there.

And this is what I wonder: Did the small world enactment of the story - the staging of it together -  help to introduce this dramatic - and geometric - moment into the story telling?

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Block play - an interview with Sofia Wallace

I am fascinated by our young (3-5 yo) students' block play. So, when Sofia Wallace, who posts delightful and inspiring things happening in her early years class in Milan, posted this, I wanted to know more:

I asked Sofia if she might be interested, if not in a thesis, at least in a short conversation about block play.

She liked the idea, and the idea of sharing it with you here.

Simon - Hi Sofia. #justsocool I find block play endlessly fascinating too, so I’m interested! I’d love to talk about it a little more…

I see already there are some hashtags. They might be good starting points.

#stories and #structures - It’s amazing how block play brings together engineering and narrative. Can you say a little more about that?

Sofia - Hi Simon! Thank you for putting this together! I love block play because it's such an accessible storytelling medium in early years. I’ve found that in my mostly EAL classrooms, children will often get intimidated with more traditional storytelling that requires them to draw or to speak. Blocks are different. All the students I’ve ever taught have been attracted to block play in one form or another. Whether solo exploring, testing how they can use them or sharing in elaborate narratives, there really is something for everyone in block play. 

I used the hashtags structure and stories because they seem to be umbrella terms for the two ways I generally see children explore with blocks. Even as young as 1 or 2 children explore structure when they are putting them in their mouths and discovering the texture or shape or physics of how a block drops, or rolls or sounds when it’s thrown. Then as they begin having that ability to use blocks to represent other things they move into being more storytellers. It’s the interplay of stories and structure that allow a child to create these amazing things. 

Simon - Yes, it’s amazing how #story and #structure brings so much together! The world of people and the world of things!

Blocks are such a powerful tool, language, material!  I’m struck that you say all the students you’ve taught are attracted to block play! I’m not sure we could say the same, with our 3 to 5 year olds. Let’s take it back a bit… Can you tell me a little more about the actual blocks that your students use in the block play, how they’re stored and accessed, and… how the attraction works? Is it just a matter of the blocks attracting, or is it seeing each other play too? Also, what is the place of the teacher in this? What would you advise early years educators like us who aren’t seeing this attraction in all the students?

Sofia - Oh great questions! I’ve been really fortunate to work in lots of different settings, all of which had different blocks and building materials available. Currently, my students have access to a combination of Kaplan, Lego, traditional wooden building blocks, Magnatiles and large foam blocks. All year round, a combination of these are stocked in the building area. We have either the shadow of the shape (just paper cut out to match the shape of the block, taped down) or photos posted of what the shelf looks like when put away. For me, a big part of creating a culture that supports exploring with blocks is creating a culture of accessibility. Students have to know that the tools out are there for them to use. For that to work, blocks have to be on a shelf that is at eye level, organised and sorted for easy access. At the start of the year we are pretty selective with what we put out. Slowly, as we develop a culture of care in our classroom, we add more. 

We also are mindful to keep the loose parts shelf as near the block area as possible, since loose parts add a lot to the narratives that come with block structures. 

Both of these shelves start quite sparse at the beginning of the year, but now have many more materials on them. 

Your next question is quite tricky for me to think about. I’m not sure I have a perfect answer for how the attraction works. I know that at the start of the year, we will often play with the students and model what being a good play partner looks like. We ask questions, use polite language to share, offer materials to others, etc. I think this immediately draws in students who are maybe coming to school for the first time and are mostly used to playing with mom, dad, grandma or grandpa in their homes. I found this year more than other years, a lot of my students were initially seeking to play with adults and not other children. 

Another way we draw children in is to have some structures made already to spark interest. Almost like a block provocation. We might create a pattern with a structure, an interesting arrangement or add a figurine to suggest a story. We did this more at the beginning of the year. Having the option to add on to something rather than start your ideas from scratch seemed like a good way to encourage children to explore. It also gave us the opportunity to model cooperative building. A lot of our students moved from being more parallel players to partner players this year. To support this we try to give them as many opportunities to collaborate as we can. 

We also will add photographs around the block structure area and we change those throughout the year. We started with photos of their homes sent by parents and then went to famous buildings around Milan, pictures of structures families visited, pictures of different architecture around Italy, landscapes, race car tracks, family vacations, etc. We changed these based on what we heard them talk about while playing in other areas in the classroom. Sometimes this inspires and sometimes it doesn’t. 

I think the final thing that attracts my groups to blocks is that they feel that their structures are really important. We take lots of pictures, share builds at circle, write stories about creations and allow for things to not get cleaned up. This tells them that their creations are important and valuable and allows them to continue on with their thinking. 

More than anything, I believe my students want to be seen as capable. Honouring their work by saying, “Yes! You worked so hard on this creation, tell me all about it” and then taking the time to save what they’ve done and share it with peers and families makes them feel really proud. That pride is what brings them back and gets them thinking in new and creative ways. 

So I suppose to summarise, my advice to an early years teacher who is not seeing a pull to blocks is to…

#1 See if the space is inviting and draws you in. 

  • Make sure pieces are easily accessed on your shelf and that they have a clear place

  • Make sure there are not too many options, especially to begin with 

  • Have a carpet or foam mat of some kind so that if blocks fall they aren’t alarming or frightening to little learners

  • Include pictures of places the children have been, ideas you’re learning about in class or settings from stories the children love to help inspire them

  • Include small pictures of students taped on blocks. This allows them to join the narrative

  • Make sure your block material match the kind of play your learners and you are ready for

  • Start with a provocation:

    • An arrangement

    • A tower

    • A sort 

    • A photo

    • An odd loose part 

    • etc.

#2 Adjust the way you think about block play

  • Allow structures to be saved, ask if they want to work on it later and create a system where you can do that

  • Reflect on how you talk about blocks 

    • Video or audio record yourself sitting in the block area and notice how you speak about what the children are doing. I am always catching myself inserting my narratives, which might interrupt the thinking. Listening to recording of myself helps me reflect on ways I could have better guided in the future. Being mindful of what you say during the play can really help children go deeper and explore without fear of judgement. 

  • Take notes of what you see them doing, write down quotes if you hear any, ask if you can photograph things to remember later and then post all of that near your blocks for reflection. It will help you as the teacher notice patterns and them as the students to feel their work is important. 

  • If you want to, try putting blocks in different areas for provocations and introduce them in new contexts (but have your clean up system planned and ready) 

  • Determine your rules beforehand with other teachers and figure out what language you are going to use in play to make those expectations clear

#3 Give yourself time

  • Make sure children get a good 30 minutes of uninterrupted block play time (not including clean up)

  • Treat clean up time like a lesson, plan lots of time for it, maybe gather a small group to do a mini lesson on how to clean the area

  • Model, scaffold, don’t rush 

  • Don’t clean everything. If you run out of time, honor the work by putting a sign up and saving it for later. The more you do this the more the students will be excited to put in time and energy. (This one bears repeating, because it’s so important)  

  • Reflect on exciting things as a group: if there is something they are very proud of, ask them if they want to share it at a group gathering time. 

#4 Play 

  • Have a day where you play too, see what it's like to really try and build something that you are proud of and remember what it feels like to create. Remembering the joys, triumphs and frustrations that come with blocks will allow you to better support your students. And it will get you excited about block play, which is then felt by the students. 

  • I highly recommend doing this with your team :) 

Simon - I’m so glad I asked those questions, Sofia! Yes! I love the way you’ve spelt out the kind of superstructure of influence and inspiration that needs to accompany the blocks being physically there in the classroom! It’s so useful, and practical in its detail! I already feel like you’ve given me a lot to think about and act on… but, perhaps greedily, I want to ask a few more questions…

You will be reflecting on what the students have built, and how they built it. Perhaps you’re doing that with colleagues. I’m interested in how you do your thinking about this. Do you have set times together when you do this? Do you think about play schemas? Or how students’ block play is progressing? Are you thinking about students’ interests or their working theories? Do you hone in on particular aspects as you document the building? Perhaps the dramatic, or the mathematical? And how do you select those aspects? How does this reflection feed into the way you re-present the students’ work to them?

And, on the same theme, whose ideas have influenced your thinking about all this in particular?

Sofia - Reflecting is always tricky, because the one thing that all teachers never have enough of is time. Reflection (especially with a group of 27 students like we had this year) requires a lot of time. Every Monday, we have one hour of dedicated planning time where we sit and look at photos, notice the patterns and look for opportunities to extend. We put our notes into our planner and use it to come up with action for the following week. Action might look like picking books related to the topics and patterns we saw, finding links to interesting videos or models, asking parents or other staff to come in as “experts”, adding provocations in different spaces, planning for large or small group games to support ideas, and organising pictures and quotes to present to the students for a circle time throughout the week. 

On Friday afternoons, our group attends an hour of gym and Chinese without us. We use that time to write a newsletter and reflect on what the big moments of the week were in play. Our newsletter is a Reggio-inspired document that includes quotes, photos, ideas, narratives and skills presented in parent-friendly-language. This helps us to see where we could go next, and help the parents get involved and keep the conversations going at home. Some weeks, block play would be a big focus, and all the narratives, drawings, games, etc. would connect to their creations. Other weeks it is barely mentioned. It all depends on what is happening in the classroom.

During the week, we use Seesaw to save pictures and track what is happening. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Seesaw, but it has this great feature that allows you to record over a photo so that even if you don’t have time to talk with everyone in the moment, the children can add comments afterwards (we often did this during Garden time). When helping children create recordings, we are very thoughtful about our questions and the language we use since the point is to gather data on the child's process and thinking. We have a separate document we have been working on that helps guide teacher questions and conversations; it includes a section of block play specific questions we use to guide us. 

In terms of assessing and tracking with block play: those Seesaw posts become key. At the beginning of the year, our Technology lead input all the EYFS standards we have in our yearly curriculum map into the Seesaw Skills for our class, which has made tracking very easy. Basically, once you have listed all the standards or skills you are looking for in the year, you can tag them on a piece of work, a conversation, video, etc. Which is amazing because in early years it allows you to really differentiate. For example: we can track a child's understanding of one-to-one correspondence by seeing how they count the blocks in their structure, animals in small world, pieces of paper glued to a collage or number of times they hit a musical instrument out in the garden. All of these are organic experiences that show the same skill, while still respecting their individual interests and methods of exploring. When we use the app, we are able to upload the data, tag it quickly with a skill, and see how those skills develop in a truly play-based context throughout the year.  You can also notice gaps or concepts the child is choosing not to explore and try to create opportunities in their preferred play area for that. 

I think you could honestly include anything you are looking to track and it is a great tool. I have heard other people have had great success with different online tracking tools for this. I would be very interested to hear about other tools people have had success with when it comes to documentation, data gathering and tracking.

This year, we did a systematic reflection on each student 3 times in the year: October, January and March. For this we went through the data we had gathered on Seesaw, in their portfolios and from the small and large group documentation. But to be honest, we didn’t have a rigid system for honing in on skills. Each of us would probably approach a structure or build and notice different skills the children are using. 

But I think that is okay. If I come to a block structure and see how the child is developing communication skills and another teacher comes to that same block structure and notices only the maths skills, that’s fine. We aren’t going to get everything, and at the end of the day, that isn’t the point. I’ve had a really good team this year and we have all been on the same page that the thing that comes first is the joy: allowing the child to be a child. To play and wonder and get frustrated and try again without having every detail gone over with a fine-tooth comb by their teacher. 

It’s a bit of a balancing act, because we are always very excited to get inside the thinking and understand. However, as you mentioned, our reflection, questions and perspective will affect the way we record it. By working toward being more mindful, we can avoid losing focus on what's important. 

I have been super lucky to have worked with some really amazing teachers, starting with the staff at my university: the University of Minnesota. I got degrees there in both child psych and early childhood education, which gave me a really strong foundation to start from and introduced me to the great minds and amazing science behind play. Since then, I have been very lucky to continue learning from peers in schools, through courses and PD and in places like Twitter! 

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Mathematics is not a "building block" subject

I've been reading Alf Coles and Nathalie Sinclair's I Can't Do Maths! Why children say this and how to make a difference. It takes five ideas about teaching maths that they've identified as myths, and explains how the myth works, and what might be done about it.

I'd already seen Alf Cole's TEDx video about the first myth, that mathematics is a building block subject, where we build more complex ideas on top of simple ideas.

The situation of learning a language by being immersed in a complex whole is of course a really powerful instance of children learning within complexity. My English as an additional language learners learn - fast - by being immersed in the life of the class. They somehow pull out of the messy whole all the grammar and vocab that they need.

As Alf Coles says, Caleb Gattegno calls this using the 'powers of their minds', and asks why we can't make complex demands on those powers in teaching maths.

Alf Coles suggests that if you're not succeeding in mathematics class, instead of needing something simpler, perhaps you need something more complex.

This is the subject of the first chapter of the book: Myth A: Maths is a Building Block Subject. 

'The idea that in order to learn something, you need to start with the simplest ideas and slowly build upwards - constructing one block at a time - seems to be common sense. The primary maths curriculum in schools in most countries in the West is designed with the tree idea in mind.'


'...what if our image of learning and mathematics were more like a mangrove forest than a single structure or tree? Mangroves grow as a decentralised network, each part dependent on other parts, growing upward and downward and sideways too. If there is a problem, no need to go back to the starting point; no need to find the trunk or the ground floor, since there is no one thing upon which everything else depends.'

UPDATE - You can read the authors' piece on this chapter in Mathematics Teaching issue 282.

This does really seem to go against the usual assumptions about mathematics learning.

And yet I do see it in operation in my students.

In our learning in Early Years of course, where it is children's play that leads the way, we often see the mathematics embedded in something else - maybe in building a house together. Or some other kind of arranging with blocks. Or pretending to run a shop. Or making a pattern of squares. They present their learning to themselves not in the most simplified form but in a complex context in which much of the learning is hidden from easy observation.

Often the complex task is more satisfying than the simpler one - perhaps in some sense it is more efficient, though it looks much less orderly and logical to us.

Take that thing of arranging squares. Today I saw this.

I've written before about how compelling filling a space can be for young children. In terms of motivation, it seems to beat the kind of linear ABAB patterns we teach when we begin pattern. And yet, here we are dealing with a 2D space rather than a 1D space, with a lot more complexity. And yet it is how young students seem to prefer to create their patterns. 

I've written about how one of my young students (not the only one) likes to build his Numberblocks-inspired numbers out of Polydron, rather than taking the more obvious path of simply using connecting cubes.

I've written a lot about using Cuisenaire rods (example). The authors too see the power of looking at arithmetic algebraically rather than numerically, and in their chapter on practicalities they go into detail on this. How powerful it is to see that two things are equal so vividly, and to have an easy way of saying it. 
Two reds are equal to one pink. 2r=p. Five and six year olds can get a really solid understanding of what equality means. And multiplication becomes counting. Two reds. Just like two apples. This can be a very different route from the counting and number-dependent route children usually follow.

I think there's a lot to be said for this mangrove approach - and thanks to Alf Coles and Nathalie Sinclair for articulating it so well! I'm going to be pondering this a lot more.

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Why play?

Here's a nice thing to do. Go down to the Med with your blow-up kayak. Push it out to sea, straight out to avoid the waves rocking it over, hop beaches, admire the mansions along the coast, take pictures, pull the kayak onto a beach and walk across the hot sand to a bar and sip cocktails together, looking out to sea.

All lovely. To do this, I also need to take my phone, to take pictures, and my card, to pay, and my glasses to see properly. It means we need to be quite careful with waves and water getting in the boat. This is the usual pattern, and it's a lot of fun.

But one time, I tried something different. I left my glasses, phone, and money with the people on the towels.

Oh, now there's nothing to get wet, I don't need to worry about water getting in the kayak. I can aim for the waves. I can deliberately capsize it, sit on the upside-down kayak, try, and succeed in, righting the kayak. 

This is play. I don't need to get from A to B without getting wet. I don't need to do the correct thing. In fact, I'm going to try out the incorrect thing. I'm going to take risks, try things to the limit. I will get wet, and it will be OK.

And I learn a lot from it, not that I was setting out to. I feel more connected with the kayak and with the sea. I know better what they can do together. I'm less afraid of what might happen. I know how the boat behaves in the waves at different angles. I know that if we get knocked over, I can sit on top of it, and we can right it. 

This play thing seems at right angles to the A to B functionality of the boat. It doesn't get me anywhere, it doesn't keep the boat the right way up, it doesn't keep me dry. And yet, my knowledge is now broader, more reliable, more comprehensive. 

That's what play does.