I remember visiting another school's classroom in second grade and they had this wooden tile pattern toy sitting out on a table--and I wanted so badly to try it out, and didn't get to.
So, now that I am old enough to buy my own toys, and have two kids to provide an excuse for doing so, this was a purchase I was thrilled to make.
The one we got is called Trapecolo, though I'm sure there are other similar tile/pattern toys out there. [Incidentally, I got this and most of our kids' Christmas gifts from For Small Hands--can't remember if I've mentioned it here before but they have some great stuff.]
It's basically just a sack of colorful bamboo trapezoids, and a hexagonal frame to arrange them in. And so we've spent a lot of time since Christmas making geometric designs--replicating examples in the little book that comes along or just filling in the frame with one pattern or another.
Then one evening I came out from my youngest's bedtime to find this:
For whatever reason, it hadn't occured to me to play with the tiles OUTSIDE the frame. There's a metaphor in here, I'm sure, for my adult, inside-the-box thinking and my older son's willingness to experiment and innovate. And it seems cliche, but I'm certain it's true: we grown-ups have so much to learn, so much, from kids.
Luckily I am an eager student. I sat right down and made the little row of houses up top, which inspired my son to say that his was "a very colorful pool" for the people in the houses. I loved that, and the back-and-forth of the creative process that followed. By the end of the night we had a whole tile village, complete with zoo and animals--crab, snake, elephant, giraffe. None of that would have fit in the little wooden frame (even though I still like the frame, too).