When it comes to bed time avoidance, my daughter pulls out some pretty creative strategies. Recently, she’s started to offer a math inquiry right when that clock is reaching that time, which I have to admit is some clever genius on her part.

Two nights ago she offered the question “How many shows make a whole movie?” I was impressed initially with her identification of this as a math question, but I think perhaps at this point, to her, working with numbers = math. (Her initial guess was 40 shows, by the way) She then prompted me for the length of a show (20 minutes) and length of a movie (2 hours). She remembered from a previous conversation about how many minutes until her babysitter arrived that there are 120 minutes in 2 hours. There are a number of ways she could have gone about this, because she’s just started thinking multiplicatively and formal division is a ways down the road. And I was less interested in her getting the right answer than I was in discovering the process she used to arrive at her solution.

M: 20+20 is 40 and 40+20 is 60. And 60+60 is 120.

Then she got a little stuck in translating 120 minutes into a number of shows. But I was impressed that she wrote out her information formally as 1 show = 20 min, 2 shows = 40 min and 3 shows = 60 minutes. Place value was a little tricky for her here and I want to be careful not to introduce any standard algorithms at age 6.

I wanted to be careful not to lead her into a formal method of figuring this out, because that would be a quick way to destroy her desire to make interesting math proclamations. I prompted her with: If 3 shows is 1 hour, then how many shows would be in 2 hours? I’m not sure if that was too much of a leap from what she was thinking about. But she did explain quite beautifully that 3+3 is 6 so 2 hours must be 6 shows.

What I’ve learned: a child’s natural interest in the world runs deep and many times that curiosity relates to mathematics. But that conversation is so delicate when as adults, 6 groups of 20 has such a quick, neat explanation to it. But it’s an explanation that she doesn’t need now and a method that cuts her off from the creative ways she can formulate answers to other similar questions she may have down the road.

The next evening she asked how many seconds are in an hour. And I’d gladly let her put off bed time to let her do some solid math thinking on how to approach that one.