What Is 1 Centimetre?

Jotter Book

How do you like this page in my son’s jotter book?  It was a doodle produced during a continuous conversation about Length, a story I wrote about in Chapter 10 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child. You can see how much I enjoyed doodling and how much he disliked colouring. It was important that I taught him to translate the information floating inside his head into a readable and writable form on paper so that others can understand him.  This is called literacy.  Exams are paper-based after all.

The process went like this:

1.  He measured the objects with his personal measuring tape and read the measurements aloud. Reading aloud is important because if he couldn’t read it, then he wasn’t ready to write it. I scribbled his readings down somewhere.

2.  I turned to a blank page on his jotter book and drew some of the things he measured, after which he filled up the the blanks with his readings.  He knew perfectly well that my drawings were perfect misrepresentations of the actual objects he handled.  Despite the 17cm pencil being drawn longer than the 25cm jotter book on the page, he wasn’t bothered because he understood 17cm and 25cm in context of the actual lengths.

So here’s a teaser question for you:  What would he have learnt if I had skipped the measuring activity and given him the following worksheets instead?

Fictitious Worksheets

Now imagine yourself as a kid who is struggling to read, write and count, while figuring out how real objects are represented on paper.  How would you fill Worksheet 1?  Would the jotter book be 4cm long, pencil be 5cm, and eraser be 2cm (because you measured the picture on the book with a ruler)?  What if the ruler was drawn in for you (as in Worksheet 2)?  Would you cease knowing what 1cm actually is?  Would you be confused?  I write this post to bring humour and caution because I have found plenty of such material in the bookstores, the expensive ones are printed in full colour. 

If you are shopping for a workbook to help your children improve in math, make it your duty to check the material before buying them.  Be very protective of your children’s cognition. Handing them materials that confuse them can be disastrous. The damage will not be noticeable immediately, but its effects will show up later, making the problem hard to diagnose and expensive to undo.

Empowering your child with real life math skill should never start with worksheets.  It has to start with reading, in this case, reading a measuring tape. In a class of many students, who will your child read his measurements to?  Will guidance be available immediately if he read it wrongly?

Why don’t you provide that guidance instead? The cost to you would be $5 for a measuring tape and multiple fragments of time when both of you are in a queue together, or waiting for your bus, or just waiting.  There are so many things to measure while you are waiting – a blade of grass, a strand of hair, a $2 note,…  Convert those unproductive moments into useful fun-filled conversations.  Remember, if he can’t read it, then he’s not ready to write it.

I like to keep things simple.  Our happy moments with full freedom of expression, have been captured and collected in the blank pages of cheap jotter books that are flavoured with noodle and milo stains.  Precious.

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