Friday, 11 November 2011

safety in numbers

I stood with Snooks this morning in our kitchen and counted to a hundred.

This was not, as you may have expected, a calming down exercise, though come to think of it that is not a bad idea.

It was just for fun. It is Snooks’ quintessential idea of a good time and after we had reached the century he shrieked with joy: “Can we do it again?”

Not for the first time I realise that the hundreds of pounds spent on plastic objects piled up in our dining room could have been put to some other use – like a decent haircut or a nice handbag. The annual negotiation with the Engineer about What To Get Him For Christmas held this week with the usual ‘where do we keep it/how do we afford it?’ caveats could have been much shorter. A calculator, in his pocket, under a tenner.

Snooks’ fascination with numbers has grown up gradually and has not, I might add, been especially encouraged by me. Not that I am against his reading off every door number, published telephone number (you would be amazed how many there are in a walk around the block – estate agent boards, taxi firm numbers, trademen’s vans) and digital clock display, just that I try very hard not to be tempted to push him somewhere he might not really want to go.

I can’t deny, it is tempting. When he first showed some football proficiency, dribbling with ease down our hallway and showing a clear left foot preference I could not help but look up local mini soccer teams and make enquiries about at what age professional clubs start looking for young talent.

Then came the verbal flair and the extraordinary phase when he appeared to be talking in French (see Say Quoi) and performed Frere Jacques for his French-speaking cousin and aunt at the ripe old age of two and three months.

But he’s over all that now. Oh yes he’ll still kick a football on the Common with his best friend and can throw a mini rugby ball over the top of a full size rugby post (thanks to the World Cup All Blacks victory last month which sent Snooks and the Engineer running across the road to the nearby rugby pitch in a post-match frenzy of excitement). But today he is all about the numbers.

My approach has been that so long as he asks I will play numbers with him. We add up on scraps of paper wherever we go, we play “guess the missing number” as we walk down the street where the absence or every other number causes him some concern and we even make the shapes of numbers with our bodies, bringing maths and yoga together in a harmony which seems just right. The latter was inspired by Snooks standing before his father and I with his arms crossed in front of himself shouting “Look, a four!”

And it's not just addition and sequences that turn him on. While visiting the Engineer's place of work recently, Snooks' attention was drawn to the cluster of air conditioning units outside the building which I assumed he had stopped to count. I am used to him counting the objects in his surroundings, a trait which my father had all his life. But this one surprised me. As I eavesdropped on his quiet calculations, I realised he was grouping them into sets, carrying out multiplication and addition at the same time.

"So three twos and two twos makes ten," he whispered to himself.
"Blimey, did you hear that?" I whispered in turn to the Engineer.

I admit, I am proud of his ability. I waver between excitement at where it could lead him if nurtured properly and fear about where it might take him if not.

But a quick squizz on mumsnet the other day revealed I am not alone. I discovered there are other ‘mathsy toddlers’ some of whom have continued to enjoy numbers throughout their childhood without incident and some who got bored at the slow pace at school and suffered.

It is early days for Snooks yet. It may be yet another phase. He seems to develop quickly in some areas and slowly in others, so his peers may well catch up before school starts.

His first few years in education will focus, as the curriculum dictates, on social skills, which, shall we say, could use a little work. By the time he starts maths at school he may well have moved on to something else – like music for instance.

Did I mention we have a piano arriving next week?

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