When I try to explain to people that DD learns what she wants to learn, that there is no curriculum, that she pursues only that which interests her, I’m often met with skepticism. The usual response is something like “But what about Math?”. There’s this assumption that kids inherently hate Math, that it couldn’t possibly be considered an “interest” of more than the most bookish child, and that therefore it needs to be forced upon children for their own good.

What they seem to miss is that even their attitude recognizes that Math is useful. Indeed, they consider it a Life Skill. And yet it doesn’t occur to them that, since it is a much used skill, it will crop up in a variety of interests be they knitting, building, or even drawing. Sooner or later, every child will get to a point in their subject of interest where understanding numbers will become necessary to move up to the next level.

For DD an interest in Math has been revealing itself slowly over the last few month, gradually building to the point where it’s safe to say she’s interested in Math itself although she doesn’t yet understand that Math is a subject unto itself. I think for her, numbers are just another one of those interesting things in her world and she is naturally curious about them.

It started with addition and then moved to fractions and negative numbers. DD helped me make cookies one day and by getting the appropriate measuring cup and pouring the contents into the mixing bowl. To do so she had to learn how to read 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4. I explained that the number on the bottom represented how many of those scoops added up to the big scoop (1 cup). Easy peasy.

I can thank the Nintendo Wii (specifically the game Big Brain Academy) for the rest. There’s a challenge in the game whereby balloons appear on screen with numbers on them and you have to pop the balloons in order from smallest to largest number (this is complicated by the fact that the balloons are of varied sizes that do not relate to their number). At the easy levels all balloons contain positive integers, but as you work your way up to harder levels they introduce negative numbers and then fractions. So it was with no surprise that DD approached me one day and asked what “those lines are in front of the numbers”. So we sat down and I drew out a number line. It took no time at all for her to grasp the relationship between negative and positive and she was able to progress in her game. I later heard her explaining the number line to DS, confirming that she indeed understood what I had shown her. I also included fractions in the number line to show her how they fit in with whole numbers.

Her interest in numbers continues to grow. Last night while we were snuggling in bed DD asked me “What’s the biggest number?” and I told her there wasn’t one. So we had a brief talk about infinity, and I promised I’d illustrate on paper the next day. So today we sat down and I drew out parts of a number table. I used different marker colours for ones, tens, and hundreds. She correctly surmised that following 999 the next number would contain 4 digits. And so I explained that the reason there is no number that is the “biggest” is because you can always add more digits to a number. By this point her attention span was coming to an end and she offered to start drawing a picture of DS’s favorite stuffed toy, Pinky Bear.

We have an old hand-me-down copy of Family Math, and we’ve played a couple of games from the book. Most of it is still above her understanding but that doesn’t seem to stop her. The other day she insisted I explain multiplication to her so she could play a particular game in that book. I’m afraid I committed a homelearning sin and told her that it was too complicated and she’d have to learn more about addition first (I was tired!). But she insisted and so I gave it my best shot, but she soon admitted that it was beyond her right now. I should have kept my mouth shut and let her come to the conclusion all on her own. I learned a lesson that day!

As for the money issue, I have been formulating an allowance plan so that she can learn a bit about managing money. She was intrigued by the idea that she could have money of her own to spend (more or less) as she wished, but pointed out that I would have to teach her how to count the money first! No problem, my sweet girl.

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