Another trip to the beach, another weekend with a nine year old. While her mom toiled away at all the things I can no longer do, I got to spend time with a smart but headstrong little girl who rarely eats healthy food.
My goal was to get her to learn her times tables. You remember those, right? 2 x 3, 4 x 5, 8 x 9? A nine year old going into fourth grade needs to have those under her belt.
“Did you bring the flashcards I made?” I asked her mom.
“No, this is our fun weekend,” she said.
“Math can be fun,” I said. “Especially if there are prizes.”
I thought of rewarding her daughter with candy, but since she has lots of candy opportunities, I decided to switch to money. Maybe I could give her a dollar for each correctly completed times table. It would only set me back twelve dollars (for zero through eleven).
Then I realized that the key to Kimmy’s heart was seashells, not money or candy. My house was filled with shells, and I could spare twelve of them, couldn’t I? The girl was obsessed with all creatures from the ocean.
When I got there a day after they did, Kimmy had a live crab in a bucket from the state beach.
“Uh, that’s illegal to take animals from the ocean,” I said.
“We’ll put it back,” Kimmy said.
“Be sure to put it back where you found it,” I said. “It might have relatives.”
I was only half-joking. I wasn’t happy that her mom had let her take the crab out of its habitat.
I brought up the times table challenge and told Kimmy she could pick ANY twelve seashells in my house if she could write down answers to 120 multiplication problems (ten questions for each table, zero through eleven).
Kimmy turned up her nose and went back to her Ipad.
I pulled out my double Twix bar and took a bite. This got Kimmy’s attention. She made the sound of a sad puppy.
“I could give you a Twix stick if you write your times tables.”
“Just zero through five,” I said.
The next thing I knew she was nodding her head and I was writing out 60 math problems. She whipped through them with no errors.
One Twix stick earned. Crunch!
She looked longingly as I bit into another Twix stick.
“I have one left,” I said. “How about you do the times tables for six, seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven?”
She shook her head and ran off to play with my dogs.
Aha! Now I knew what was scaring her. As her mom said in a groaner joke, “Six is afraid of seven because seven eight nine.”
Her mom went off to trim a tree branch, I and decided to leave Kimmy alone. If she wanted to try multiplication later, I’d be ready.
It was eight hours later when Kimmy asked, “When can we play the seashell game?”
“Now if you’d like,” I said. “Go ahead and pick them out.”
Kimmy immediately pointed to the biggest conch shell in the whole place.
“How about that one?”
The one given to me by an old lady twenty years before. One that would be illegal to pick up now.
I had to go through with it. I’d promised.
“Okay,”I said, “if you do 120 math problems, then you can have that one.”
We spend the rest of Saturday night doing math. Kimmy didn’t get them all right, but I helped her redo the ones she missed. It was obvious that the bigger numbers were over her head. She needed some strategy tips. She needed some luck.
I showed her patterns in the answers and pointed out that if one of the numbers in the problem was an even number, then the answer would also be an even number. I showed her how multiples of nine had a pattern. I helped her figure out ways to get the answer without her habit of counting fingers.
4th graders who count on their fingers would be teased.
Kimmy isn’t a natural. Her own mother admitted that she never really got math either. A teacher loves a challenge, and I’m an ex-teacher. I let Kimmy try as many times as it took to get the answer right. I showed her how she could go back and find the answer to 7 x 5. It was right there in the five’s column.
“See?” I said. “7 x 5 and 5 x 7. The answer is the same.”
By the time she was done, Kimmy had seven gorgeous seashells on the table, all earned. I told her she could get the last four for the times tables she didn’t get completely right — six, seven, eight, and nine — the next time she came down. A girl can only do so much math in one weekend.
“Could I have some soup?” Kimmy asked. ‘I did all the problems.”
“You can have soup anytime, even if you don’t do any math,” I said.
She ate the whole can.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
I should’ve done this six months ago when her mom first mentioned Kimmy’s struggle with multiplication.