Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Pencils and Pennies

The problem with high ideals is how you feel when you fail them. This time last week I was so proud of myself for backing off from my children's 'formal' learning and being happy with seven words. Then we tried some maths. The page in my little girl's book was covering how to add 9 the easy way: add 10 and take away 1. Then it went on to taking away 9, take away 10 and add 1. This seemed pretty straightforward to me. What I had failed to see was the number of steps involved in this process and, when adding 10 to a number feels pretty shaky, it was a step too far. All the demons were stirred: my child is behind, my child is lazy, my child isn't trying, I am failing. It wasn't pretty! We left it, tearfully, and tried again another day. It didn't work then either. So, picture the scene at tea-time on Friday. I am upset about my own stuff and panicky that she has not completed her set maths page for the week. She is tired and wanting to play. I am trying to cook a white sauce and explain, yet again, how the process works, while she sits at the kitchen table. It took less that five minutes for me to descend to yelling and her to be reduced to tears. Why do I do this?

Picture the scene yesterday. She is sitting on the table, giggling that this is easy. We have added ten to twenty, thirty, forty and so on. We have graduated to adding ten to twenty-one, thirty-two. Now we are making numbers with pencils for 'lots of ten' and pennies. I'm trying to give her nine, but I can't because I only have a pencil, worth ten, and I can't break it up, what can I do? She takes the pencil and hands me a penny. Then we figure out what she's got left, now she's added nine by adding ten and taking away one. It's such a fun game that she's asking for more and begging her brother to come and see. I am hamming it up, crying that I can't give her nine, only ten, and I don't want to give her ten, I only want to give her nine. 'Trust me,' she says, taking my pencil and handing me a penny. It's so good, we have to show daddy when he gets in from work.

It's amazing what backing off, unlocking horns and trying a new approach can do. It's amazing how good it is for the soul to giggle with your daughter. It's amazing there's always a second chance.

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