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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