Thursday, October 04, 2007

I'm thinking of a number

The big kids all played this at some stage too. Fiona wanted to give it a try today while she and I were taking an extra trip to Nelson. It goes like this:

"I'm thinking of a number that's bigger than 5 and smaller than 10."

"Is it 7?"

"Too small."

"Is it 8?"

"Yep! You got it!"

The variations are endless and when the parent is doing the "thinking of a number" the game can be used to stretch a child's understanding and interest into new areas. I've been known to try to "trick" my kids with fractions, negative numbers and irrational numbers. When played as a "multiple guess" game it's a great one for helping kids develop rational strategies based on probability. For instance, if the number is known to be between 50 and 100, 75 is a good guess, while 51 is not. It often takes kids practice to get the hang of that sort of problem-solving.

Today we played some "multiple guess" rounds, but I also tried pushing towards the limits of Fiona's conceptual understanding to see where those limits are. Among the questions she got:

"I'm thinking of a number that's how old Daddy will be in two years."

"I'm thinking of a number that's half Sophie's age."

"I'm thinking of a number that's two after 12 on a clock face."

"I'm thinking of a number that's one less than 0."

"I'm thinking of a number that's how many days there are in two weeks."

"I'm thinking of a number that's how many days there are in two weeks if you don't count the Saturdays."

"I'm thinking of a number that's double 8."

"I'm thinking of a number that's one less than two tens."

Among those she didn't get:

"I'm thinking of a two-digit number that's less than 11." (I don't think she really understands the difference between digits and numbers.)

"I'm thinking of a number that's halfway between 3 and 7."

Fiona is positively driven in the area of math lately. She's pouring just as much passion into this as she did into violin last spring and into painting through last winter. She's now almost three-quarters of the way through the Miquon Orange book, and this isn't half the math she does -- she's always peppering people with questions and announcing numerical relationships she's been working out. I thought Sophie was wild about math at this age, but she wasn't half as obsessed as Fiona.


  1. Your ability to relax with unschooling and recognize the specific aspects of learning taking place is amazing. I wish I could do that!

    I am beginng to realize I have a child who does not want to "be schooled," and I am thinking I need to try very hard to relax and appreciate what he is learning all on his own...but I am so uptight about it, and the fact that we are homeschooling through the School District has made it harder with all of their materials and timelines they have sent home with me that pile up my counter tops and put the pressure on. (How was that for one long run on sentence LOL)

    I just don't know how to do it and then I read your entries and I get inspired and feel motivated and the next day comes and I am back to "doing school" again. My poor child tells me he just wants to play...and he learns while he plays: he pulls out dictionaries and sketch pads and looks up things on Google, he watches documentaries and Magic School Bus, he studies the garden and goes to the library on his own...but I feel pressured for him to "complete his school work."

    How on Earth do you relax through it all, Miranda? How do you find all the learning taking place in the simple act of being, interacting, living? How do you not worry that what you are doing is enough for your children to compete intellectually in the world they will participate in as adults? These are the things that pass through my mind all of the time...and worry me silly.

  2. Shawna, don't worry -- I'm not immune to the same worries. I have two huge advantages with my kids, Fiona especially. First, they seem to naturally learn skills before anyone expects, so I don't have to be on tenterhooks waiting and trying to trust but doubting. They're precocious with those milestone-y things. I'm truly lucky that way. The other huge advantage I have is that I did most of my worrying with my first and second children. Poor kids. By the time I've got to number four I'm way more relaxed, and I've been thoroughly softened up by my older kids into the unschooling way of being.

    The other thing I feel very fortunate about is that I've found a school program (partly publicly funded) that "gets" child-led learning right down to its roots. We've only used it for six out of 19 of my various kids' school years (most of the rest of the time we were 'flying solo') but we feel philosophically at home there and are grateful that we found the program.

    I know that with a first or second-born child who wasn't particularly precocious, enrolled in a more school-oriented program, I'd be feeling and doing exactly the same as you. Still, children are very persistent and very forgiving, and will keep nudging us in the direction that works for them. So long as we keep trying to respond, that's really what counts.


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