It’s the first day of the spring school holidays. Pearl is out with a friend, and Fainjin and Babess and I have just been shopping, now sitting down for some morning tea. There’s some conversation about what we will do with the rest of the day, who needs a drink of water, and so on. Trivialities.

All of a sudden, Fainjin says, “Mum, what numbers can’t you equal?”

I frown at him. “What do you mean?”

“What numbers can’t you equal?”

Does he mean unattainable ages? Imaginary numbers? – unlikely, I don’t think those come up until university-level maths these days and he hasn’t even done multiplication really yet…

“Sweetie, I don’t understand your question. Can you give me an example of what you mean?”

He thinks for a bit. His expression clears… “Well, in colours, you can’t make red or yellow or blue… so what *numbers* can’t you equal?”

I’m impressed with his analogy. Primary colours are an interesting comparison to prime numbers. As I said, he hasn’t really done multiplication yet – some doubles and halves, counting in twos and fives and tens – but he seems to instinctively grasp the idea that there must be fundamental building blocks in mathematics as well as in art and light.

Explaining prime numbers to a six-year-old without a clear grasp of multiplication is an interesting and delightful experience. Especially when an intrigued five-year-old starts chiming in with more questions.

I can tell these holidays are going to be fun. I really hope he doesn’t start asking about imaginary numbers tomorrow though – I still struggle with those!

*© UpsideBackwards 2013.*

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Tags: Family, learning, mathematics, parenting

This entry was posted on September 30, 2013 at 8:05 pm and is filed under conversations, fainjin, maths. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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