I’ve never met a storyteller quite like Paprika. Seriously. From the time she was born, she was telling us stories – she started talking at just a few months old, could memorize whole books by age 2, and now at age 6 her love of reading, writing, and books is just insatiable.
Paprika comes from a long line of scientists. Both of her grandfathers, her great-grandfather, and even her dad were trained as scientists (Mr. M has a BS in Chemistry).
So, even before Paprika was born, I knew we would want to teach our children math and science…and have children (girls or boys) who were great at science and math. You know how you always read about how girls fall behind in math, or how we need to encourage STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education for girls?
And for the most part, I agree. But one thing I find VERY interesting in my on-the-ground experience is that some traits are hard-wired, and no matter how much you can encourage a child to do something…well, their passions and their interests are often immutable. They are who they are…thank goodness!
Well, Paprika is not behind in math or anything like that. I started her on the 3rd Grade math curriculum about two weeks ago, and she is 1/3 of the way finished with it. She completes about a week in a day. She’ll be doing 4th Grade by September.
Yet, even though she has no problem with Math – it is her least favorite subject. I do everything to make it fun. But, here’s the thing – it’s not that she doesn’t LIKE math (because Paprika likes pretty much everything academic) – it’s that she likes other things much better.
So, if you ask her: Do you like math? She will exclaim: I do! I love math! Let’s do it tomorrow, shall we? There are so many interesting things we can do today, and we’ll just double up on that silly old math tomorrow.
(A tomorrow which presumably never comes.)
But I have this desire…my desire for her to reach her full math potential. Every day, I sit with her and we learn math together. It’s all pretty easy for her – but she gets terribly bored with the computational problems. It’s basically torture – for all of us! Ha!
Then, we get to the rare word problem. Suddenly, she is much more interested. Here’s a little glimpse into yesterday’s math lesson:
Math Problem #1:
Sally is having a party. Her recipe for blueberry pie calls for 6 cups of blueberries for 12 people. Sally is having 36 people to her party. How many cups of blueberries does she need?
I’m looking at the problem. It’s problem number one of the day. We have 23 more problems to go in the lesson. So, of course, I want to get through it quickly. But Paprika? No, no, no. She’s just getting started. Her eyes light up:
Paprika: Blueberry pie! Yum! What kind of party do you think it is? Do you think some people might not like blueberry pie? Why don’t we make a few different kinds of pie? That’s a lot of sugar, anyway. Maybe some appetizers would be good. Let’s make this into a story. What’s the setting of the story? A party…but what kind of party? Is it a backyard party or a fancy party? Who are the characters besides Sally? What’s the conflict? Maybe we should leave the setting ambiguous, so the reader can imagine it, like Mo Willems does in his stories. That might make it more interesting. Let’s do a sketch of the setting, shall we?
Me: Honey, honey. Let’s focus here. How many cups do we need to feed 36 people? I’ll draw a picture.
(I start sketching cups of blueberries…)
Paprika: Those don’t really look like blueberries. They need tops on them. They kind of look like tomatoes. Let’s sketch the people, too. We can make them with crazy hair! That would be fun! Look at this guest’s crazy braids. Can you do my hair like that? What if we used these tomatoes you drew…yes, that’s it – let’s make lasagne for the main course, with blueberry pie for some people for dessert, and then chocolate cake for the rest? Everyone likes chocolate. Well, I had a friend once who did not like chocolate, but that’s not typical. Mom, what’s the problem in this story?
Me: The problem is that they need to feed 36 people pie but the recipe only feeds 12.
Paprika: Well, that’s not a very interesting problem, now is it? What if Sally needed to make pie but some mischievous, friendly little mice came and stole all of her ingredients? That would be a problem! But I think we can do better. What if we told the story from the perspective of the mice! Yes, that’s it! Sally’s making the pie but the mice need the ingredients for their party. So, the mice steal the ingredients from Sally and then Sally steals them back. In the end, they share and everyone has fun at the party. But, you know, the mice are hidden. Because mice freak some people out. It’s a good moral, too. You know, sharing is caring.
Me: Yes, it is. Let’s move on to the next question, honey. We’ll come back to this one later.
Paprika: Okay, just let me fill in the number first. 18 cups. That’s it, right?
Paprika: That’s the answer they want. 18 cups. We have to put in the answer to go on to the next problem. I wonder what story we’ll have next! I hope it’s a good one!