Tag Archives: natural conversation


Several people have observed that they would love to have audio of the conversations I report under the heading Talking Math with Your Kids. I agree that this would be helpful. But here’s the rub. These conversations are a natural part of our day, and they have to be natural.

My kids have no interest in being show ponies. Oh, they’ll show off for the recording device, but it won’t be natural. Observe Griffin as a young lad in this video, for instance.

He’s totally making faces for the camera and watching himself in the monitor. (You may also note that the spinach is washed; and please forgive the praise style—I know better now!) This mugging behavior has only gotten worse with time.

I do have some ideas for getting good audio, but these will require funds (Do you have a couple thousand dollars for a good cause? Tweet me! We’ll talk!) So in the meantime, we’ll continue the transcribed conversations.

Today’s conversation is a brief one, but I want to make a comparison. The discussion in the following video is not a natural one. (Tip o’ the hat to David Wees for the find.)

Here’s what I mean. The woman discusses cookies because she thinks they will interest the child in question, not because cookies are already under consideration. The question of multiplication (or repeated addition—I have no interest in that distinction here) doesn’t arise naturally either. It arises in the context of putting four chocolate chips on each of three cookies.

To be clear, I have no problem with any of this. But it’s different from the kinds of conversations I am hoping to encourage. The ones I hope to encourage go more like this…

Tabitha (5 years old) and her mother made cookies from one of those frozen-cookie-dough-school-fundraiser things over Thanksgiving weekend. These cookies were stored (unwisely) in a transparent Pyrex container on an open shelf. This led to a desire on Tabitha’s part for a cookie before dinner.

Tabitha: How many cookies can I have? One or two?

Me: Zero. You can have zero cookies.

T: A half?

Me: No. I said zero.

T: Zero whole ones and a half cookie?

Me: Zero halves.

T: And a quarter?

This is a natural conversation about cookies. The opportunity to turn it into a mathematical one was Tabitha asking, How many can I have? I could have played the role of rule enforcer and replied, We don’t eat cookies before dinner; you may have one for dessert. Responding with zero in answer to her question gave her some mathematical wiggle room to play with. And we are far enough along in this talking math adventure that she’s going to play with it nearly every time.

For the record, Tabitha and I have spoken about zero before. And several times, we have had conversations about fractions.