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When Simon first began talking about numbers a lot, I chalked it up to being a boy thing. (Sexist, yes, but lots of boys go through a numbers-obsessed phase.) When it seemed to ramp up early this year, I didn’t trust my objectivity. Matt and I were interested in a math/science/technology magnet school, so Simon’s having a math or science focus fit nicely into the educational narrative we were writing for him.

Now, with the paperwork all submitted and the hysteria dialed down considerably, the math interest is as or more obvious than ever. The kid loves numbers and is trying hard to organize and make sense of them. Here’s what math interest looks like in an otherwise developmentally average (i.e. bright, but not a prodigy) kid:


When Matt and Simon watch basketball games, usually UK or the Boston Celtics, Matt watches the game. His focus is on Rondo’s passing and shooting, Anthony Davis’s blocks, how much the refs let NBA stars walk, and how much the NCAA seems to have it out for Callipari at Kentucky.

But Simon? Simon watches the score. “Oh, it’s 68 to 72, so Kentucky is up by 4. Now it’s 68 to 74, so Kentucky is up by 6! A while ago it was 68 to 70, so Kentucky was only up by 2.”

Then there’s the basketball he actually plays with the YMCA. A typical comment after leaving a game, “I had 2 rebounds and 2 shots. That’s 4 things I did today.”


Here’s a fun one! Last month, my mom told Simon that they needed to call Uncle Steve and wish him a happy birthday. “How old is Uncle Steve?” Simon asked. When my mom answered “49”, the wheels started to spin. “Oh. My Daddy is 41. So that means Uncle Steve is 8 years older than him.”

Hey kiddo. When you call Uncle Steve to wish him a happy birthday, you might want to leave that bit out.

This computation happens on all birthdays, and everyone’s age is noted and compared to everyone else’s. Just last week, a visiting relative of Alek and Gabriel’s asked me how old my mother was. “74” I replied in a muddled moment. “No, no, Mommy,”came Simon’s truly distressed response. “Bubbie is 72. That’s Zadie who is 74, remember? Zadie is 2 years older than Bubbie now, but then later, when Bubbie has her birthday, he’s just 1 year older.” I knew that, I really did. But in case I ever forget, it’s good to know that Simon will be around to set me straight.

Car Talk:

NPRs “Car Talk” is the surest way to have Simon get grumpy in the car. Those guys drive him crazy and bring about desperate cries to put on music and “rock out”.  Comic stylings of the brothers Click and Clack aside, Simon’s own car talk can be pretty monotonous. He’ll count to 100 by 2s. Then by 5s. Then by 10s. Then he asks if you can count by 2s starting with 1, thus introducing the concept of odds and evens. Two days ago he trotted out counting by 7s, a trick he could not quite pull off. So I had to do that one for him. And when the counting gets boring (for him, not me), it’s time for a lightening game of math on the spot, wherein Simon is the quiz-master and I am the student put on the spot.

“What’s 100 plus 240?”

“What’s 362 plus 289?”

“What’s 7 times 9?”

“What’s 89 times 0?”

He loved the answer to that last bit, so now likes to do addition and multiplication problems involving zero when we’re walking to the car, walking through grocery store parking lots, and any other time when the conversation lags.

The Next Step:

By this point, Simon understands and can do some addition and subtraction in his head up to two digits, three if they are even numbers like 200, 300, etc. He understands but cannot do multiplication in his head. If we illustrate a problem with drawn sets or physical objects, on the other hand, he’s got it. He understands fractions, (“Do we have three quarters of a tank of gas?”) and at least knows the existence of negative numbers.

It’s a numerical love affair that is in no way pushed or instigated by me or Matt. He comes up with the observations (Two nights ago at Target, Simon looked up at the check-out lanes and excitedly pointed out that “Look! The odds are all up front, and the ovenses [evens] are all back here.”) and the problems (How much do I weigh in bare feet? How much do I weigh in Mommy’s shoes? What’s the difference?) all on his own.

Math is how Simon orders his universe. It may be like this forever; it may go away next week. Until or unless it does, I feel compelled to nurture it along. That’s where the Russian School of Mathematics enters the picture, which will be the subject of my next post.

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