Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sneaky Math: You Know, UNO!

My six-year-old daughter is hip to my game.  You know, that I'm interested in stretching and deepening my personal understanding of what math is and how we make it.  She has become highly sensitive to moments where I might be trying to teach or show her something math related.  She's on to me.  She calls me, accusingly, "Math Mommy!" 

This is an attitude shift, actually.  Back in September, when she had plans to run away with her best friend, she very clearly relied on me to help her learn the math she would need for when they finally headed out into the wilderness. (Or, the elementary school playground, which has a huge field and lots of trees around the edges.  Whichever.)

Now, however, she wants nothing to do with me and my math.  And, after being quite self-motivated and curious about measuring, comparing amounts, comparing sizes, spontaneous chant counting by tens and twos, relationships between numbers, and relationships between shapes the whole summer and fall, her inquiry into all these things has slowed somewhat.

Except, she has become a W-H-I-Z at two person UNO.  We are UNO addicts; we play UNO every day, sometimes twice a day.  UNO perks us up: Having a bad day?  Let's play UNO!  Been in the same argument loop all morning?  Let's play UNO!  And, yes, I know there is math in this game but DON'T TELL HER!!!  Honestly, I have been giddy with glee that I now have an outlet to influence her mathematical thinking and move her math skills forward without her knowing!

Well, I mean, she knows she's adding up points, for example, but she wouldn't do it at all if I just asked her to outright.  She's already shot down my suggestion that maybe, perhaps, we could, let's say put down a 3 and 4 to match that yellow 7 that's on top of the pile?  "Math Mommy!  I just want to play the game!"  So, I've come up with my new 'sneaky math' approach.

What she doesn't know is that, faced with such perceptive resistance, I'm loosing on purpose (sometimes) and I'm quite gleeful about the way that it's working out.  I hand her my handful of lost points and say, "How big a win was it for you?!" giving her an opportunity to be very specific about the magnitude of her victory.  I'll casually say, "How many tens can you find?"  or "What's fifty plus twenty [Wild Draw Four + Skip cards]?"  As a result she's naturally skip counting by tens and sometimes fives, easily finding different combinations of numbers to make ten, adding numbers to sums way past twenty, using her fingers less and less and, in the process, improving her capacity for mental arithmetic.

Examples of different ways to make 'ten'.  I've somehow found my way to guiding her to find as many tens as possible and add those up first, which capitalizes on her love of tens, hundreds, and thousands.  We did get stuck today, though.  She found two 10's but then we were stuck with three 6's.  In the end I got out the paper to show her the 'easy way' to finish up the adding, thus sneaking in a little two digit addition on paper.  She balked a bit, but I said, "How are you going to know if you beat me or not??"  That was motivation enough!  (I'm still not sure, though, when to bring in a calculator.  I'm pretty sure being able to mentally calculate numbers is an important life skill in many ways, so I'll stick with fingers, skip counting and the occasional paper and pencil for now.)
She is quite publicly gleeful herself as she gloats about the magnitude of her victories.  Me? I am secretly thrilled that I've found a way for my incredibly enthusiastic and fiercely independent learner, enigma that she is, to enjoy her math without knowing her mama is enjoying (and influencing) that math along with her. 

For Christmas, since the kid is so into games these days, she's getting Junior Monopoly and the cube version of Quirkle.  Oh, and Mancala, plus some really cool fractal fridge magnets to go with our fridge tangrams.  I've got my sneak on, big time!


  1. Very cool! We love, love, love Mancala. Walter almost always says yes when I suggest it.

  2. Tell her: "Yes, I am a math mommy. Is it okay that I am a math mommy?"


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...