Things that come in pairs

Talking Math with Your Kids week continues.

I was doing the dishes one morning while Tabitha (who was four, nearly five) drew in the other room. She came in for help.

Tabitha: Where are the scissors?

Me: I don’t know. How many pairs of scissors do we have anyway? We have a lot, but we can never find them. Why is that?

T: I just need one pair of scissors.

Me: Isn’t it weird that scissors come in pairs?

T: Yeah.

Me: What else comes in pairs?

T: Pants do. And shoes.

Me: Oooh. Good. What else?

T: Legs. And ears. And noses [giggles].

Me: Noses?!? Noses don’t come in pairs, silly!

T: Eyes do. And glasses.

Me: Nice! Eyes. You know, it’s not just people who have eyes that come in pairs. Fish do, too.

T: Of course!

Me: How many pairs of eyes are in our aquarium?

T: Seven.

Me: So how many eyes is that?

T: Nine?

[Griffin (who was seven years old) wandered in from the living room.]

Me: Griff, how many pairs of eyes are in our aquarium?

G: Seven.

Me: So how many eyes is that?

G: Fourteen.

Me: How did you know that so fast?

G: Seven plus seven is fourteen.

Me: Right. But that’s two sevens. Don’t we need seven twos?

G: Yeah, but it’s the same answer either way.

If kids are going to understand place value, they’ll need to be able to think about different units. Sometimes a unit is a thing (an eye); sometimes a unit is a group (a pair of eyes). Giving them practice counting groups and individual things supports their mathematical development. Helping them notice that some things usually do come in groups supports it too.

Correcting Tabitha when she added 7 and 2 to get 9? That wasn’t nearly so important.

But you’d better believe I talked with Griffin later about things that are commutative.

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