Math Monday::Beach (or Pool, or Bath) Physics!

If I organized a school, kinda like what Emerson and Alcott and Thoreau did (all of them transcendentalists…I’m mad for transcendentalism and their impact on alternative education in America…) then I’d make sure to set it up on a coast where kids could play in the surf and sand.

To children, play is the fastest route to learning.

Children learn through various methods, but often their physical and social world teaches them the most.

This is true for adults, too, but I think most of us have forgotten that!

In any case, the physical aspect of playing in the water and sifting through the sand can open up so many discussions that are so mathmatically important. I know many of you don’t have a beach access, but it’s really not about the beach at all. The process of introducing math to any mind is more about opening yourself up to the discussions and details and play no matter where you are.

For us, being so close to the beach, we spend a lot of time in the waves. We do not compute math problems while there. We do not take timed tests. We do not memorize times tables. But we do discuss physics!

I, personally, never took physics, I could barely pass Math 101 in college (hello dyscalculia!) but my sister minored in it. Go figure. Anyways, I know she studied waves. Waves are a part of the science of physics, defined as a type of change that moves from place to place.

Instead of learning about waves from a textbook, we are learning about them from the real deal…the waves themselves. If you don’t have a beach close by for your kid (or yourself!) to play in, take the play to a bath or hot tub or pool or kitchen sink.

We like to throw a ball out as far into the ocean as we can, and then try to be the first person to get it back. The ball hovers over the waves, bobbing and dipping, until it gets caught in a breaking wave and comes towards shore. Often, in the midst of going to get it, one of us gets caught in a breaking wave as well, and gets tumbled on the sand. I’ll show you a video of our in depth learning:


You may be saying to yourself….but wait, you’re just playing with a ball at the ocean! And you’d be right. That’s the beauty of Math Mondays! So much of it is rooted in play, and the learning and exploring feels happy and not like learning at all. I’ll review some of the discussions we’ve had because of our beach play.

* Is the wave moving the ball, or is the ball moving over the wave?
* If a wave is approaching, where is the best place to be…the bottom (underneath the water), the middle (face) or top (crest)?
* Do big and small waves have the same force against an object?
* what makes a wave move?
* What makes a wave break?
* What is the most dangerous kind of wave?
* Can you ever throw a ball far enough out so it doesn’t come back to the same shore?

Sometimes I answer their questions, usually–because I’m no physics major, I just wonder along with them. In a break with public school, I believe the most learning happens in the questions, not the answers. I rarely introduce a subject unless my kids are questioning a lot about it, because their minds are the most receptive to studying something if they want answers.

Throw a bunch of balls in the bath, hot tub, or pool and let the play begin. Keep an ear out for the early signs of wave exploration!

Then, trips to the library can begin. There are lots of books on waves. The kids and I have poured over this wikipedia article on waves. We also liked this series of “lessons” on waves from The Physics Classroom!

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more links:

transcendental Ideas about Education

How You Can Support Children’s Learning Through Play

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7 Responses

  1. That looks fantastic for SOOOOO many reasons! ;D

    • I don’t know how people can send their kids inside anywhere for 7 hours a day when California is their backyard!

  2. that’a a pretty wet classroom. I like it. =)

  3. I can’t think of a better way of learning about physics than spending a day on the beach watching the waves crash against the shore. Sounds like a perfect day to me! I just wish the beaches were a little warmer here! Oh, I love those transcendentalists too! We just took a trip to Concord, Boston, and New York in December, and it was so inspiring to be in the homes of these great minds! It was definately a dream come true for me. Have you ever read Bronson Alcotts General Maxims? Here is a link for them if you are interested: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/ideas/alcottmaxims.html
    hope you enjoy this. Have a great day!

  4. Awesome!

    I received a comment the other day about the learning (meaning not schooling) in our house, and how my son is so young – “of course, “school” for A right now is mostly playing” and I thought (after initially being offended), of course, DUH, and for ME too! I learn best through play. I remember most when it was relevant and fun. Who doesn’t? Silly thing to say. 😉 Of course that isn’t what she meant, but if she only knew… 😀

    Great post – as always, of course.

  5. i like to dip on a hot tub every morning and before going to sleep, it is really nice`~’

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