18 February 2011

As a kid, I was really good at memorizing. I read using whole language before the term was invented. I learned math facts that same way, and my first experience of extreme embarrassment was the result of just such learning.

I had the math fact 4+7=11 down securely, since I knew all of my 4+'s, but the day I was called, Sr. Theresa asked me what 7+4 was and I had no idea. My shame came from being told that I should have known that if 4+7=11, then I should have known that 7+4=11! I don't know if I had learned the cumulative law of addition, but I certainly had not absorbed it.

Cheshire learned math in a very Montessori way -- she understood it all. It was fortunate that she was in a Montessori for the first three years of schooling. The teaching technique perfectly matched her learning strength. She was, however, pretty terrible at memorizing facts, and we worked long and hard, with the help of Kumon math, to get her through those arithmetic days when knowing math facts made a big difference in how she was doing in math. Once she got out of arithmetic, she flew -- her math understanding, unbridled from memorized facts, grew by leaps and bounds.

And then there is Julia. How I wish I could see some brain scan as she works at numbers! Where she is excited by words, by reading, by stories, by facts about dinosaurs, number leave her more than cold. These days, she is counting to 20, although she will still forget 14 from time to time. Why 14? She is getting a grasp of more and less in terms of numbers -- Her teachers at school work constantly with a number line. She can be led through simple addition and subtraction when we use little dinosaurs or stones or blocks. We've started working on money and she can identify all of our coins, but she does not understand what they are worth or what the equivalents between coins are. We are also working on time, but there are still concepts of later, soon, today, tomorrow, someday, that are very unclear.

This all whirls in my head -- numbers, time, money -- it is all connected. I am sure, but I have no idea how. I don't know whether it is a permanent disability or if it another box to find the key to. Either way, I will not stop teaching her. And given the choice, as if there was a choice, I would so much rather she be interested in reading than math, but without any number sense, life will be hard. Time, money, leaving tips in restaurants. Life does not favor the number-less. Still, even as Cheshire and I have distinctly different math learning styles, maybe Julia's will also be different and will emerge when she is ready.

Just observations. Just thoughts.

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