I have had the good fortune to have several meetings with Peggy Reimann, an education consultant with a passel of brilliant ideas about nurturing a love of reading and even encouraging an understanding and sense of friendliness with—gasp!—math. She urged us to quit cold turkey anything like flash cards, and the strange but common process of quizzing little kids about books, i.e.: “DO YOU SEE THE COW? WHERE IS THE COW? WHAT DOES A COW SAY? GOOOOOOD A COW SAYS MOO!” Rather, she urged us in her gentle and wise manner to look at pictures with our kids, to move our fingers across the page, to talk about what we see together—and this process seriously changed completely the way my 3-year-old daughter Harper and I experience books and images and was utterly amazing.
So, now that Harper is a sage 3.5, I figured it was time to dive into Peggy’s math curriculum.
All summer I tried to introduce pattern sorting. I’d put Ollie down for a nap, make us some milky tea, and set the scene for something VERY SPECIAL. In one spot, a paper with circles on it. In another spot: colored pieces, in our case buttons. The idea is that you make it a kind of a game to make patterns together, to sort out the colors, and eventually start talking about quantities. “So!” I’d say brightly, like Peggy instructed, “I’m going to put the blue button here.” “OK,” Harper would respond. And then, having found the thimble among the buttons, she’d switch into a high-pitched fairy-voice and offer a button some tea out of the thimble, and then the button would squeak, “Oh, yes please!”
And so on. Pasta-shape-sorting turned into an elaborate story-play of Jack and the Magic Pasta-Seeds-Beanstalk. Absolutely everything becomes a game of pretend with this kid, even bathtime turns into a 3-hour-long session of making bath-rice-pudding for bath-Foofa’s birthday. Of course I find this to be wonderful, and in my sick writer’s mind can’t think of anything better than an almost-absolute break with reality. But still, I really like the idea of appealing to some other corners of her busy, buzzing mind. And in classic parenting “it’s actually my issue not yours” fashion, I am eager for her to avoid the gut-wrenching math anxiety that to this day has me reacting to the words “fraction” and “division” with an outbreak of hives.
So today I tried an activity that looked so cute on Pinterest (I could probably just copy-and-paste this every night “It looked so cute on Pinterest but didn’t quite work out as well for me…”): writing numbers (or I also tried dots) on craft sticks, and then sticking the numbers in order into a big snake of play-dough.
First: excitement. “What’s this? A project?” My explanation was met with a “talk-to-the-hand” type gesture. “Nah, let’s make these sticks into people!”
“But, it’s a cool project!” I tried changing my tactics. “It’s a really fun big-girl activity. Um, it’s a game. It’s a puzzle.” Nothing. “You know what this is? It’s math!”
“I DON’T LIKE MATH! I ONLY LIKE DRAWING PEOPLE!”
And that, folks, is genetics at work. So much for instilling an early love of numbers. One thing I really feel that I have succeeded at, though, is encouraging an early love of tea parties, fairies, and flitting around singing little nonsense songs, all of which are sure to be very helpful in really any field Harper chooses to pursue.