I found this geoboard on the table this morning. She says her doll Amelia wanted to show her how she could tap dance inside a square. And then a circle. And then a hexagon. "Which has the most area, do you think?" I asked, not even knowing if she'd know what I meant. "Oh, the square," she answered blithely. Certainly looks that way to me:
"Oh, and Mama," she says, "I also made a napkin. A fancy one, for parties. And look, I did some beading on it. It's a frieze pattern, white, pink, white pink. Oh, and I didn't use two pieces of thread. I used the same thread, up and down, up and down. See?" I am often delighted by her explorations, but this one took the cake. I had no idea she had been paying such close attention when I doodled frieze patterns for her, on the day she had a high fever. I also had no idea she had such facility with beads.
It's amazing to watch the myriad ways she finds (all on her own) to represent her growing mathematical knowledge. Pianos, geoboards, sewing, straws and beads, even while riding her bike.
This flurry of math in the making has me reflecting on how I used to think that math was some kind of inaccessible, abstract magic trick, a sort of in-joke that excluded us common folk, but now I realize that math is completely not that at all. The reality of math as most of us know it is like that story where three men are standing in a dark room touching different parts of an elephant. None of them has the full picture because they're only perceiving individual elements of the whole animal.
The reality, I'm discovering, is that math is just like that elephant: a large, expansive, three dimensional, intelligent, sensitive, expressive creature. The problem is that most of us have been standing around in that dark room since about kindergarten, grasping its tail, thinking "this is what math is and, personally, I don't think it's for me". We've been blind to the larger, incredibly beautiful picture that would emerge if only we would turn on the lights and open our eyes. (Or, in reality, if we could find someone who would help us understand what we're looking at once those lights go on.)
I'm so glad that my daughter and I are starting to really get to know, understand and, amazingly, even have fond feelings for this math elephant. The kid is just heading into second grade and I know we have so much more math to do and learn about, but what math we do understand seems to be connected to pretty much everything we see, or do, or observe.