Monday, April 04, 2011

Free U: Numbers

A stack of blue sticky notes and a chart with the numbers from 1 to 100 provided a 20-minute, unscripted, Danny-led number lesson on a napless Friday afternoon.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do with the two of them that afternoon. I was certain, though, that I wanted two exhausted kids by 8 p.m. instead of two wired monkeys hounding us from the top of the stairs until 10 p.m. So they wound up at the kitchen table with crayons, sticky notes, paper and markers while I prepped dinner. And, of course, they were begging to eat the frozen peas I was tossing in the casserole. (My kids are weird like that. They love to eat frozen veggies.)

It all started with the number four. Because, you see, Danny is four years old and he is the center of the universe. He counted out four frozen peas. Then he asked me to write the number four on a sticky note. Then he ran to get the number chart I had printed out months ago.

My sister told me about this handy little chart. It's just 10 rows of numbers from 1 to 100. For a time, it was written on the chalkboard wall. She told me to just put the hundred number board where he could access and study it anytime he wanted. 

I had to resist the urge to lead the lesson. I didn't always succeed. When I tried to get him to start counting from number 1, Danny quickly lost interest and began fidgeting. When I backed off, he started pointing to numbers, asking what they were and telling me to write them on the sticky notes. He called it his number map. I began sticking them along the edge of our round kitchen table. In order, of course. (I had to do something, but I didn't mention that they were in numerical order.)  He asked how old certain family members were. "What number is PopPop?" he'd ask. I showed him the ages of everyone in the family and wrote those on sticky notes with the corresponding name.

I decided to do a little matching game with him. I asked him to match the numbers on the sticky note with their matches on the number board. He found them quickly and correctly every time.

Then I explained how to name all the numbers. For instance, we talked about the 70 row and how every time you see a 7 before another number, you say 70 and then the number after the 7. I pointed to 71. He said 71. We went down the row this way. He got every one of them correct without hesitation. We did the 40 and 90 row, by no means sequentially as the lesson may have been in school.

This went surprisingly well for an indoor afternoon with no naps. If I had to plan an introduction to numbers lesson, I'm pretty sure this English major would have broken out in hives. He may not want to talk about numbers again for a few days, weeks or months. And that's okay (partly because anything math related does make me sweat). One of my core beliefs about learning is this: The teacher appears when the student is ready. And the teacher isn't always a person with credentials or a plan; it can be any situation or experience such as a piece of  paper with numbers written on it and a parent willing to just sit and answer whatever questions come up.

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