Sometimes Math is Like Pulling Teeth

The Activities

  1. Topic: Counting, Addition, Subtraction: Book: Red Riding Hood’s Math Adventure, by Harcourt. This is an interactive book where the kids get to decide how many cookies to give to various fairytale characters. After each page ask:  How many cookies do you have? How many have you given away? How many total cookies were given away, and are left?
  2. Topic: Logic: Logic puzzles from “Thinking Skills age 4-6” by Shapiro. Given 4 pictures of things (like pets or houses), and a few clues, figure out which item the clues refer to.  First use the clues in the book.  Then make it a bit harder by giving clues and asking if the kids have enough info:
  3. Topic: Logic, Puzzles: Boat problem. You have one boat that can fit 2 items and a group of items that need to cross the river.  Each boat trip must contain at least one person to drive the boat. If a cow and a carrot are left alone on the riverside with no person to watch, the cow will eat the carrot.  How can you get the following groups across:
    1. 2 cows and 2 people
    2. 1 person, 2 cows and 1 carrot.  (not possible)
    3. 2 people, a cow, and a carrot.
    4. 1 person, a carrot, a rabbit, a lion

How did it go?

We had a Saturday math circle this week, with only 3 kids. My daughter had had a very long day before circle, including having one of her teeth pulled at the dentist.

Red Riding Hood’s Math Adventure

Each girl got 12 construction paper cookies.  They were red, pink or blue. Kid #1 and #2 picked pink and red, but then my daughter got extremely upset and threw the blue cookies on the ground.  She kept crying so I had to send her away to David.

Each page has a character which asks for cookies. The girls can give 0, 1, or 2 cookies, and characters’ replies change based on the choice.  I asked each time how many cookies each girl had left and they counted successfully.

Then my exhausted daughter came back and took the blue cookies. She gave the next character 6 cookies. This inspired Kid #2 to give all her remaining cookies. The girls enjoyed telling the ‘bad’ characters like the wolf and troll that they got no cookies.

At one point Kid #1 said my daughter sounded like a baby because she was crying so much. So she started crying again.

After the end of the book, I asked if anyone wanted to try counting all the cookies together.  Kids #1 and #2 wanted to.  First Kid #1 counted and laid out all the cookies.  She got 34.  Then Kid #2 counted the laid out cookies and got 36 (interestingly, she did skip and double count some cookies but ultimately got the right answer).

Logic Puzzles

There were several groups of objects, for example, 4 frogs, some green, some brown, some with blue spots, some with purple spots.  I gave a couple clues and the kids had to figure out which one matched all the clues.

The kids had no problem with this at all.  They were able to follow clues like “It has purple” or “It cannot fly” and combine the clues to figure out the right answer.

Next I had my own set of clues for the same pictures, and after each clue I asked the girls if they knew the answer yet.  The only confusion was that Kid #2 thought my clues were *in addition* to the old clues.  After I clarified that we were looking for a different person’s pet she understood.

Finally, I used the same pictures but had the girls ask yes/no questions to figure out the pet.  I assumed they would naturally ask yes/no since I had played lots of Guess Who with my daughter.  However, Kid #2’s first question was: “Which one is your pet?”.  I managed to describe yes/no questions to them and then they were able to solve each problem.

Once Kid #2 asked: “Does it have white?” for a set of picture where there was no white and another kid giggled because she saw this.  Another time a kid asked “Is it looking up?” hoping to distinguish between two frogs, but they were both looking up, so she changed her question to “Is it looking up and its mouth is open?”

Boat Problem

All 3 girls were able to immediately solve the 2 cows, 2 people problem.

Next they tried 1 person, 2 cows, and 1 carrot, which is actually impossible.  After trying a bunch of different things they started to claim that it couldn’t be done. So I added in another person, and asked if they could do it now.  Kid #1 was able to solve it.

Next was 1 person, a carrot, a rabbit, and a lion. Kid #2 started this one.  She first took the rabbit across.  Then came back to get the carrot, and then was stuck. Kid #1 also got stuck in the same way. Then she started to lose interest, and I said that it was actually possible.  This brought back her interest.

Finally Kid #3 tried.  She first took the rabbit across.  Then got the lion.  Then she said “I’m scared, I don’t want the lion to eat the rabbit!”.  But I said the rabbit was safe as long as the person is there.  Then I suggested she could take out the lion put the rabbit in the boat.  After she did that, she solved the rest of the problem easily.  Kid #1 saw that it would work and said “She’s solving it, yay!”

Then I asked #1 and #2 if they wanted to solve the problem too.  And they both said no.


This activity is also from Thinking Skills, age 4-6.  The graphing activity involved counting a number of objects and then coloring a bar chart with the number.  The objects were dolls, balls, and trains.  Everyone wanted to do dolls.  So I randomized who went first and it was Kid #3.  She picked dolls.  Kid #1 immediately said she would not do the activity, and stood to the side pouting. Kid #2 also said she wouldn’t do it. Kid #3 counted the dolls and filled in the chart, but the other girls still refused to participate.

I dismissed the circle, and the girls ran upstairs.  There was more drama when my daughter ran to get her new sparkly shoes and Kid #2 said that she had shoes that were even sparklier than that.  She was sad that Kid #2 said this, so I told her to tell her friend that.  She said “It makes me sad when you say your things are more beautiful than mine”.  Kid #2 looked sad at hearing this but did not want to apologize and went off by herself for a little bit.


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