A few nights ago, the little six-year-old girl next door came a-knocking to see if my youngest daughter (age 8) could play. EL had spent some portion of her day dawdling, so her school work was not yet completed and she was unavailable to play. However, little KM came inside anyway.
"What are you doing?" she had asked.
"I'm making dinner. Wanna come help?"
And so I had a new young kitchen helper on my hands. (Our previous neighbor girl had also learned to cook, and do fractional math, in our kitchen, but she has since moved away.) And so, it was time once again to bring out the "math plates."
Math plates are a regular part of the schooling in our home because "home economics" is also a regular part of the schooling in our home. (I understand that this is no longer a PC term, but it fits exactly what I'm trying to accomplish, so that's what we call it.) I feel very strongly that I want the children in our family to know how to cook when they leave home. They all need to understand nutrition and healthy eating. They all need to be able to follow a recipe to prepare things from scratch, without dangerous pre-fab ingredients.
But the girls also need to know how to shop frugally, how to plan family meals, how to pull off getting all parts of a meal ready at the same time, etc. Call it sexist, but I do want the girls to be equipped to be doing the bulk of the meal preparation for their families one day because I hope they will choose to be home with their children when they are young. Mom training children = Mom home with them all day = Mom who needs to do most of the shopping/cooking/cleaning = Dad trying to support a family on one income = Mom who needs to know how to resourcefully provide for her family on less-than-average funds. (Hence, home economics.) But I digress...
Math plates. These are nothing more than paper plates (ours happen to have a lovely floral pattern on them, but only because those were the most substantial ones around when I needed to make them). There's a whole plate (a birthday plate, I think) and then there are the "half plates" (three plates, cut in half to make six halves) and the "third plates" (a plate cut into thirds) and the "quarter plates" (a plate cut into fourths). Whenever I am making food in our home and there is a young child around (unfortunately there is a dearth of these in our home these days, but not from lack of trying), I grab them and let them help me.
[A word about this sort of "help" - it is not helpful. It is training. It is fun, but it is work. Do not expect it to pay off as "help" for many more years. But call it help. Kids love to think they're helping; they don't need to know it isn't really helpful but is actually a ton more work taking a ton more time than you would take on your own. This is one of the secrets of mommyhood.]
Usually the math plates come into play in our home when I'm doubling a recipe. With six of us eating, I'm usually at least doubling everything. Sometimes I'll triple or quadruple it, just to jazz up the mental math required of them. Or we'll do something "half whole wheat" so that they have to work with halving as well as doubling.
At any rate, eventually the day will come when you suggest pulling out the math plates to help with some impending recipe conversion, and the child will say, "Mom, may I just do it in my head, please?!" By all means, you will indicate, and you will smile to realize that you have a pre-schooler who is handling complex fractional math computations in her head without batting an eye.
Here's to kitchen math!