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Improv 1: Live Mirrors and Scale

Each task of the course is a quick math improvisation prompt. It has an activity base, and one variable you can change in it to start improvising. Feel free to come back to the game and change it as new variables are discussed. Or find your own variables, change them and share the results with us. Happy math improv!

Photo: Students at the Russian Saturday school "Znaika" playing live mirrors in pairs

Suggested improv variable: scale

How does the scale of a game change child’s attitude towards it?

Why scale?

Why do some kids happily play with tiny LEGO pieces or create intricate patterns out of beads? Why do others build rockets out of giant cardboard boxes or draw mural masterpieces?

Turns out, some kids are Microscopists while others are Gigantists. Microscopists prefer manipulating tiny objects that require fine motor skills. Gigantists love enormous structures and get more joy out of their gross motor skills. This may be an overall preference, or it may depend on the context. For example, your child may prefer tiny construction sets, but huge whiteboards for writing and drawing.

Try changing the scale of your kid’s activities. You may notice your child suddenly getting smarter, more creative, or happier. We have seen kids gain several years’ worth of skill development in writing, art or math just by scaling up or down.

Live  Mirrors basic activity

For more details on why play this game at all and how to play it with children of various ages, check out the Live Mirror - Full Description post on our blog.

Stand in front of each other and mimic each other's gestures and expressions.

This is harder and more fun than it looks, because of movement and complex gestures.

It is a very quick game, just a few seconds. Some kids want to play much longer, though!

Infants - Let your baby lead! Follow by mirroring her gestures and facial expressions. Another version: hold the baby in your lap in front of another person. Mirror that person’s posture by moving baby’s hands and feet.

Toddlers  - The toddler may start repeating your gestures and facial expressions. Help with hard positions by moving the child. Use helpful math words: up and down, vertical and horizontal, symmetric.

Kids  - Use more complex motions - who doesn’t love twirling in front of a mirror - say, rub your tummy and pat your head. Try playing with four people and two mirror lines.

Adults - Find finger positions or body motions that challenge you. Help kids who get confused by mimicking them in return, or gently position them. Observe which elements are harder and which are easier.

Picture: Playing four-person, two-mirror game

Live Mirror BUZZ Words

These are big and important words that you can introduce to your child as you are playing this game.
  • Symmetry
  • Line of symmetry
  • Mirror image
  • Axis
  • Center
  • Bonus: chirality is a quality of a shape that is not identical to its mirror image. For example, letter “A” is achiral while letter “P” is chiral; a plain pencil is achiral while a glove is chiral.

Photo: Yelena's son Mark playing with a NY Hall of Science interactive mirror


Live mirrors improv time!

Try to change the scale

Playing with the scale is a good opportunity to introduce quite a few math words and concepts in addition to the BUZZ words - big, small, bigger than, smaller than, same (equal) size, etc.

  • Play live mirrors outdoors or in a large room, with big huge movements like jumping, laying down, or kicking the air.
  • Play at a table, using just fingers to mirror small, intricate gestures.
  • Try giant or tiny objects, such as exercise balls or mini stickers.
  • With toys, scale down by using only one or two toys, or scale way up by bringing every toy in the room into the game!
  • Try finger play songs, like “Eensey Weensey Spider” (here’s the video)
  • With older kids, try drawing or writing (large or small - chalk or notebook!) while mirroring one another.

Good questions for kids

  • Key question to repeat: Is everything symmetric so far? Can you check?
  • Similarities&differences question: Are our up and down the same? Are our left and right the same? So, if I move up or right, do you move up or right?
  • Quest question: Can you find a movement or a position so hard I can’t repeat it?

Send the class a short video or a story with photos about scaling live mirrors up and down.

1. What is your child’s scale? What is your scale?
2.What else do you notice about live mirrors?
3. Which math words did you use as you played?

Task Discussion

  • Erin   Nov. 8, 2011, 9:46 p.m.

    It was interesting to me to see how small the movements of my five-year-old were. He is a very active kid, and I was impressed that he could focus on intricate movements. I believe that part of the reason is that he did this activity in "theater class," and because he learned it from someone else he was following the "rules." He even told me it was a no-talking activity. Typically, it is difficult to find any non-talking moments in my house.

    My three-year-old would play for about a minute and then yelled "chase me" and started running in circles.

  • Yelena   Nov. 8, 2011, 11:16 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Erin   Nov. 8, 2011, 9:46 p.m.

    A minute is a whole lot of time :) We, the adults, think of games as lasting a fairly long time (like Life or Monopoly or card games). So our perception of kids' level of interest in games is likely skewed. Time is not always a good indicator of child's interest/involvement in a game, especially for open-ended and very flexible games. Plus a mirror game requires a lot of concentration and effort and it's possible that young children get tired quickly. 

    One way I found to extend the duration of the game and to help my son concentrate was to let him lead and me be the mirror. Except I'd ask him to check that I was reflecting his movements properly. 

  • Yelena   Nov. 2, 2011, 9:29 p.m.

    I played the game today with Mark and once again it confirmed my belief that he is a gigantist (and I am not). I let him lead the game and played as his reflection. So he had a chance to act very silly and had a blast with the game. With him being the leader and me - a reflection, I just kept asking him to check if I was "a good mirror" that showed symmetrical reflection or "a confused mirror" that showed things not quite right. I think it actually made the game more challenging for him, but nevertheless we played for about 10 minutes and eventually it was me who asked to stop smiley

  • Rebecca Hanson   Nov. 4, 2011, 10:28 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Yelena   Nov. 2, 2011, 9:29 p.m.

    I don't know how to comment so I'll try replying instead!

    Well we've had yukky bugs here this weeks so it hasn't gone ot plan but we did do some noodles (picture to upload when I work out how) and we enjoyed watching the Marx brothers.

    But I was just wondering if anyone else has used an eye toy with their kids?

    There are all sorts of mirror games with assorted distortions, time delays, challenges and so on.  We love it.


  • Yelena   Nov. 4, 2011, 8:35 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Rebecca Hanson   Nov. 4, 2011, 10:28 a.m.

    Hi Rebecca, I hope you and the kids are feeling better now. I have not heard of the Eye Toy (don't have a PS2). It sounds interesting and the review emphasized how intuitive it is to use even for very small children. Is there any way you can do a short video of this toy, sort of like a demo, with a mirror game?

    To upload a photo to this site, just Reply to this comment, click the Image icon, then switch to Upload tab and upload from your computer. If you do have a video, then you can just e-mail it to me and I'll figure out how to post it into the thread.

  • Rebecca Hanson   Nov. 9, 2011, 5:50 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Yelena   Nov. 4, 2011, 8:35 p.m.

    Sorry have been ludicrously busy (met Maria in London which was wonderful).

    Found this youtube of the eye toy game we have:

    The camera films you in the room and puts you into the picture in the game.

    Sadly it doesn't show the mirrors game where the mirrors invert/reflect parts of you body while you try to burst balloons (and avoid bursting others) in the corners of the screen.

    It really works your brain power!

  • Sam   Nov. 2, 2011, 7:27 p.m.

    We just tried the game with Anya, our 6-year-old. She caught on pretty well, even with distances  as well. She did great! :) Going to expand it to the other kids too soon, they just aren't in the mood right now but will do more later on :) Anya loves the game!

  • Yelena   Nov. 2, 2011, 9:19 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Sam   Nov. 2, 2011, 7:27 p.m.

    This is great! I'm glad Anya enjoyed the game. Let us know how the rest of the kids play it. Ah, good job with noticing the distances! In my experience, I end up paying more attention to the number of steps and forget about keeping the same distance from the line of symmetry :) 

  • Yelena   Nov. 1, 2011, 11:37 p.m.

    If you are looking for more examples of the Live Mirror game, particularly for older children, definitely check out this post on The Map is Not the Territory blog. 

  • Sam   Nov. 2, 2011, 7:28 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Yelena   Nov. 1, 2011, 11:37 p.m.

    Great ideas, Yelena! Will try some of those expansions as well after they get down the basics :)