Big Numbers

Last week, during a period of cooperative play in the block area, two boys became involved in an argument over numbers.  I’m not sure what they were initially counting – if anything – but when I observed them they were simply spewing out random numbers and insisting that their ‘number’ was bigger than their opponent’s number.

First the six year old would shout “One hundred forty three six” and then the seven year old would reply “Fourteen hundred seventeen eighty”.  After several turns back and forth they realized that neither of them knew which of their numbers was the largest so they asked me.

I picked up a scrap piece of paper and as I repeated the numbers they had said, adding when necessary, I consolidated them into a single number and wrote it on the paper.  Their ‘one hundred forty three six’ I wrote as 149 and the ‘fourteen hundred seventeen eighty’ became 1,497.  They excitedly listed more numbers and I continued to write them down – I needed a bigger paper.

I chose a long piece of paper and as I wrote their numbers down I put the larger numbers higher on the paper.  I also lined up the digits into columns so they could see the placement.  They were starting to catch on and when one said “one hundred and a thousand and four” (1,104) the other one would follow with “one thousand and two hundred and five” (1,205).

Then one grinned and said “Twelve thousand” which I promptly wrote way above the other numbers.  The second child thought for a minute and then said “twelve thousand and one”.   The numbers continued until the page was nearly full and the children tired of the activity.

Then, on Monday morning the seven year old tried to explain the game to the other two school-age children who only attend before school and had not been here when this game was first played. They all agreed that this was an excellent activity for 6:40am on a Monday.  I got my pen and paper — and another cup of coffee.

The girl was the youngest of the three children – she started the game with the number ‘20’.  After six turns she reached ‘900’.  The seven year old who started this game began where he left off last week – he said ’12,512’.  The nine-year-old grasped the concept immediately and said ‘one million’.  The six-year-old answered with ‘one hundred million’ which was followed by ‘one trillion’, ‘a googol’, and then ‘a googol and one’.

The oldest child said that was almost as many people as there are in the world.  I said I didn’t think there were that many people but we could find out – so I Googled (ironic) ‘world population’ and we checked out this site.  Then we went to this very interesting site to learn where each of us placed in the world.  Now they know my birthday and my age!  They also know there are twice as many people on the planet now than there were when I was born.

Every day this week we have spent the first hour of the morning exploring these big numbers.  Yesterday they wanted to know how many zeros ‘a gazillion’ had so we searched for the answer to that.  We found this site so ‘a centillion’  has become the new favourite number.  I didn’t want to write 600 zeros but the nine-year-old did…

I don’t have a lesson plan for today — we’ll have to see what their questions are.  I’m fairly certain there will be big numbers involved.


Last year I began making plans to overhaul my front yard – I wrote about it here. I ordered my plants months ago and made arrangements to pick them up on May 27th.  This weekend – all three days – I was planning to get the yard ready for planting.  The weekend is over and I’m not finished the prep work.

First, I had a list of little things that could be done on evenings and weekends before the May long weekend – very few of them got done ahead of time so that made my weekend ‘to do’ list even longer.  Three days were probably not going to be enough to get all the work done. Then there were a few other obstacles.

Friday evening there was a thunderstorm.  That was really not a bad thing because if there had not been a storm I would have probably wanted to plunge right into the yard work with only a few hours of daylight left.  A few hours of work is just enough for me to really get ‘into’ the job and I wouldn’t have wanted to stop.

The real setback was the full day of steady rain on Saturday so no yard work got done that day.  The day wasn’t completely wasted – I got a lot of paperwork done.  I finished work on the 2013 resource calendar and sent it off to MCCA for final edit so that big job is completed – early.  However, the yard renovation was way behind schedule.

On Sunday the weather was absolutely perfect for doing yard work.  Dealing with canker worms was the only issue.  We may have gotten a lot of work done but even though I skipped a meal or two I didn’t want ‘protein’ added to my coffee.  My husband suggested that we should patent my fancy cup covers (empty plastic containers turned upside down).

By Monday morning I had already realized that there was no chance that the yard work would be complete.  It was a good thing that I hadn’t ordered soil to be delivered for the garden beds because I wasn’t even close to having the gravel moved out of the way yet.

My husband and I dug up and relocated 18 small and medium sized sidewalk blocks to make room for the new flower beds.  Then we made a horrifying discovery – ten years ago, when we put all this gravel and sidewalk in, we put it over the original sidewalk.  We had forgotten that it was there so now we were staring at three 30” x 36” slabs of concrete that were four inches thick!  I was certain that my native prairie plants would not be happy if we just put soil over those slabs.  We would have to take them out.

While we worked on our yard there were many real estate agents and prospective buyers coming to view the house next door. I struggled with trying to be friendly without coming across as the nosy neighbour. Wielding a sledge hammer I may have come across as crazy.  I had an enjoyable conversation with one woman until our husbands interrupted us.  Maybe she was crazy too – I liked her.

We got one concrete slab removed before the rain returned and we quit working. The whole project may have been too big for two people to complete in three days.  It was definitely too much for the 1 ½ days of good weather that we had.  It is not complete, the reality is – it is a work in progress.

Waiting for the Bus

Several of the children in my care take the school bus to school and normally the bus stops to pick-up and drop off the children directly in front of my house.  Due to some major road work in the area the bus can no longer turn onto my street during the morning rush hour so the stop has been moved to the end of the street.

If the lunchtime or after school drop offs had been moved I would probably be annoyed – those are hectic times of the day and a change like that would be very disruptive to our schedule.  The morning walk to the bus stop is actually quite enjoyable.  We listen to the birds, visit with the neighbourhood cats that come to greet us, and enjoy the refreshing spring weather.

There is a lot of traffic at the corner so while we wait the children count cars or play eye spy type games. Last week a police car passed by and the children waved at the officer – who waved back.  The children were ecstatic and a new game began.

The children stand side by side and wave at everyone who passes by.  They smile and wave at every pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle that goes past our location.  They also keep score: one point for everyone who smiles back, two points if they smile and wave too.  The children cheer every time they get a response from these morning commuters and there is a collective groan when there is a surly unresponsive one.  The children could hardly contain their excitement when one driver smiled, waved and honked the horn – THREE points!

So, if you see a group of children standing on the corner smiling and waving make their day and wave back.  Hopefully they will make your day a little brighter too. 🙂

The (W)hole Project

It started last week.  The preschoolers were in the yard contemplating what to do.  One of them suggested “Let’s dig a hole”.

This is certainly not a new activity; they’ve done it many times before.  It may seem like a simple task but it is not.  As the hole gets deeper the process becomes more complex. Each child has a role – scooping, filling, transporting, or dumping the gravel – all working together.  They have to be careful as they walk – too close to the hole and they may cause an avalanche of gravel that fills the hole.

The most interesting aspect of the project on this occasion was the amount of time they spent on the activity – almost a week.  Work was not continuous. Some days they worked for only a few minutes at a time before switching to another activity.  Then suddenly one of them would have an idea for the hole project and they would all rush back to it.

It took several days and each day when we went in the children asked if they could leave the hole ‘out’ for the next day.  Of course they could.  The first thing they did each day when we went out was to check if the hole was still there.  Then they’d decide if they were going to work on it or do something else.

Occasionally there were debates about the purpose of the hole. Someone suggested that they were digging for ‘electricity’.  “How will we know when we find it?”  One child asked.  Another responded “When we find the plug”.  🙂 Then they discussed how exciting it would be if they were the ones who ‘discovered electricity’. “Imagine if little children did something like that – they’d write a newspaper story about us.”

They added pipes because ‘there are always pipes in holes’.  Later they poured in some water which flowed directly into the gravel – that didn’t bother them since containing the water wasn’t the goal either.


They reached the landscape fabric and decided to expose as much of it as possible – and then they needed a bridge to cover the fabric at the bottom of the hole.

They tested the structure;

Then suddenly they put all the stuff away and filled in the hole.  For over a week they had been working on this project and now these photos are the only evidence that is left.  The ‘product’ was never their goal, it was the process. Collaboration, communication, problem solving, cooperation, innovation, imagination – all part of the process.


It began as a conversation through the tunnel – something they have enjoyed often in the past.  In fact, this first picture was taken last year when they were all a little smaller and ‘fit’ on the bridge;

Now they are taller so they hang further off the edge and sometimes even rest their hands or heads on the gravel below.  Then one day a few weeks ago the four-year-old held onto the underside of the bridge and then brought his legs up and over until he flipped over off the bridge.  It was like a slow motion summersault except he never let go of the bridge and he landed on his feet.  The entire movement was controlled and precise.  I was impressed and judging by the response from the other children, they were too.

The five-year-old announced that it had been the ‘most amazing motabular’ that she had ever seen.  The name stuck and for weeks since then ‘doing motabulars’ has been a popular activity for these preschoolers. None of the other children have been able to master holding the bridge while completing the flip like this;

Some have modified the feat to fit their own comfort level – taking acceptable risk – understanding their physical abilities.  They rest their hands on the ground and then roll forward and bring their legs off the bridge and into the gravel.

One day the four-year-old announced his satisfaction with the ‘motacular’ that he had just done. The others stopped what they were doing and asked “What is a motacular?”  He replied that it was “A spectacular motabular”.  Love it!

The girl had successfully completed several motabulars but much preferred the role of ‘judge’ – rating the completion of each motabular.  This annoyed the oldest child in the group – the only one who had never yet been able to complete the ‘flip’ part.  Sometimes he would roll sideways off the bridge and down the slope of the hill.  Other times he would walk forward on his hands and then pull his knees up and drop down to the gravel without ever turning over.

Each time he received an ‘Almost’ or ‘Not quite’ rating from the judge. “Put your hands closer to the hill” the others said “You can’t flip when you are that far away” They were trying to be helpful but it just aggravated the situation. “Motabulars are STUPID! He shouted as he stomped away.  He refused to try again.

Every time the others practiced their motabulars he would sit and pout – muttering about how dumb that activity was.  Sometimes he’d try to start a game of tag or a building project – anything to get the others to stop doing motabulars.  But they didn’t stop.

One day ‘the judge’ was absent. As soon as we went outside the younger two boys started doing motabulars.  The older one stood close by and watched.  After the others had several turns he made his first attempt of the day.  He adjusted his stance a few times before crawling down without rolling.  He tried to create some different poses and movements to entice the others to do something different.  He tried again to do a motabular;

This time he attempted a roll but went sideways instead of over.  He was visibly frustrated.  He criticized his own roll, talking out loud to himself, trying to make sense of what he was doing wrong.  No one else said anything – no one made any type of judgement – and he went back to try again.  He was persistent.  After another failed attempt he spent some time again watching the others very closely;

Asking for and getting advice and assistance when he wanted it;

Then it happened;

He rejoiced – strutting around the yard singing a new song. “Motabulars are awesome. Motabulars are great.  I can do motabulars!”  He continued to do more and more of them for the rest of the day.

Interestingly he hasn’t done one since the judge came back.  In fact, he hasn’t tried to do one when she is near.  He has made a few attempts when she is busy elsewhere but he is obviously concerned that she may notice.  He quietly talks to himself, analyzing the situation, fully aware of where she is and what she is doing.  Not trying in case she notices when he fails.

That is the power of grades and rewards.  They destroy the intrinsic motivation and the perseverance.  They put the emphasis on someone else’s evaluation of the outcome intead of the effort it takes to try and fail and try again.  Even when the reward is meant to be an encouragement it is ultimately still a judgement.