Math is all around us.
It’s there when we walk out onto the patio at Starbucks and my three year old says, “I will get one more chair for us so we have three,” as he grabs an extra chair, noticing that all the tables are set for two.
It’s there when he pours water from cup to cup in a painstaking effort to achieve the same volume in each.
When he arranges his blocks like Tetris pieces, determined to cover the entire surface of the coffee table.
When he replies to my, “I love you, too,” with, “I love you THREE!” and Babygirl shouts, “Four, five, SEVEN!”
When he looks at a photo of a race car made of Magformers and tries to build what he sees.
And, in one of my all-time favorite pieces of toddler negotiation, it was there when we had this exchange over breakfast:
BUG: “Can I have another cinnamon roll please?”
MAMA: “Hmm…I also want some more cinnamon roll and we only have one left. What should we do?”
BUG (after a thoughtful pause): “Babygirl, do you want to share half of your cinnamon roll with Mommy?”
It is. Literally. Everywhere.
And, still, Instagram would have me believe that I should present my toddlers’ water play in the form of a bar graph, with each numbered column of cups having one more than the column beside it. That I should set out their snacks family style, in bowls with a number next to each to indicate how many blackberries, how many cashews, and how many raisins they are to serve themselves. I see mothers posting these things and I wonder, Should I be doing that??
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s adorable and I’m sure their children love it…but after I click “like,” I just go right back to drinking my iced coffee and watching to see what my kids will do next with the big pile of cardboard boxes they’re playing in. And, for a moment, I smile at their imagination, their problem solving, and their cooperation.
But then I start to hear that voice again. The nagging voice I thought I had silenced. The one that says things like, “falling behind,” “critical window,” and “you’re not enough.”
I mean, what would these Instagram mothers think of the fact that, at 22 months old, Babygirl leaves out the number six EVERY time she counts to nine? And forget about the fact that she quits before she reaches double digits!
Should I be actively teaching my children these things instead of watching while they learn and waiting to see what questions they have?
When I set out a bowl of strawberries, should I be asking the Bug to count them as he distributes our snack? He often does, without being prompted, but frankly, I prefer when it goes more like this: “This strawberry is HUGE like me! I will eat it. This is a good one for Babygirl because it is tiiiiiiiiiiny like her,” and so on (usually while Babygirl shouts, “Me not tiny! Me big and strong!” in the background.)
Am I doing them a disservice by trusting them?
We have these tiny dinosaurs that grow when you put them in water and then shrink back as they dry. We decided, this time, to dry half of them in their usual spot on the kitchen counter and set the other half outside to see which shrank faster. Once the kids were through marveling over how quickly the ones in the sun returned to their regular size (#sciencemagic), they grabbed them all and ran off into the living room to give things dinosaur bites.
I hung back in the kitchen for a minute, but followed when I heard frustration building and found the Bug, sans dinosaur, and Babygirl, doing her best to keep her distance and with tightly closed fists.
It wasn’t long, of course, before the Bug made a move for the dinos that his sister was guarding so fiercely. I came between them before the struggle could turn into a physical one and, though it was tempting to ask, “Did you take the dinosaurs from your brother?,” simply said, “You both want those dinosaurs! What should we do?”
They both thought for a minute before the Bug said, “Maybe she can have three and I can have three!”
“That sounds like a great solution. What do you think, Babygirl?,” I asked and looked to his sister who slowly opened her hands to reveal six tiny dinosaurs.
Six tiny dinosaurs and two toddlers using math to resolve their conflict, all while I did nothing but make sure they were safe. Such a small but important reminder of what they are capable of.
So, I’m going to stay here with my feet up, watching the Bug draw with sidewalk chalk, because they’re getting it. They’re learning exactly what they need to learn and I trust that they will keep solving new problems as long as I can stay out of their way.
I just wish I had more iced coffee.