You won’t be hearing much from Griffin and Tabitha this month. Instead, you’ll hear from other children and their parents who have talked math and have shared their conversations with me.
It will be a ton of fun to get a peek into these other households, and to see how frequently ideas and questions about number and shape come up in life with young children.
I would love to hear your own reports, and to gather a collection of stories representing diverse families, cultures, languages and experiences. Shoot me a note describing conversations you have participated in or witnessed. I’ll feature as many of them here as I can.
Let’s kick things off with an example of a father and his five-year old daughter, and how Twitter helped them talk a bit more math than they otherwise might have…
Andy is a dad in Minneapolis. Let’s call his daughter Martine. Andy tweeted me on Friday (January 31).
— Andy (@Martianson) January 31, 2014
Here is how this sort of thing would go in our house.
Martine (5 years old): If tomorrow is February first, does that mean today is February 0th?
Dad: Yeah, I guess we could call it that. If we do, what would yesterday have been?
M: February negative one.
Dad: Oooo. Nice! And what about the day before that?
Et cetera. At some point, the conversation would go somewhere else. Or if she’s still interested, I might give it a twist with a question like this.
Dad: So if today is both January 31 and February 0, and if tomorrow is February 1, shouldn’t it also have a January name?
I would be probing Martine’s double-naming idea for each day. And then…
Dad: Hey! I know! If today is both a January and a February day, then tomorrow should be both a February and a March day, right? What is tomorrow’s date in March?
As I mentioned, the conversation may very well have broken down by this point. But these what if questions are the things that turn a cool observation into a conversation. That conversation is where we turn kids’ minds on.
Dad Chris Hunter suggested that first follow up question: What about yesterday?
Andy asked Martine about that on Saturday.
Martine said that the day before February 0 would be February negative 1. Andy reports—and this is important—never having explicitly discussed negative numbers with Martine. No number lines, no backwards counting past 0.
But surely they have talked about the weather. Below-zero temperatures have been as common as snowflakes in Minnesota this year. Talking about the weather may have planted the idea. Then the calendar was an opportunity to make a connection.
All of this leads to two important ideas about talking math with kids:
- It’s not a conversation until you, as a parent, participate. Martine noticed something (Jan. 31 could be Feb. 0). Andy turned it into a conversation when he asked about the previous day.
- These conversations are facilitated by availability of objects. Turning the calendar became a learning opportunity for Andy and Martine. No calendar, no conversation.
And you can read about other conversations facilitated by objects in these previous posts: