There are only two rules:
- We never toss, drop, or throw manipulatives.
- We never take apart someone else's creation unless they give permission.
I love that the kids use their math skills during free exploration without even trying. They naturally sort, count, build, compare, create patterns, etc. They also use the same creative imaginations that they'll be using in the near future to make up their own math strategies. Also, they must rely on those all-important social skills. It's difficult to successfully pull off free exploration without cooperation and the ability to share.
Whether at the beginning of the year or at the start of a new unit with new tools, free exploration is a great strategy.