Sep 222014

I love gummy bears (jelly babies). So do my kids and the neighbors’ kids. And probably the whole universe. To limit sugar consumption and its effect on teeth my wife and I introduced a candy day: Sunday every week.

That way the “damage” is limited to one day of the week. Also begging for sweets has almost disappeared. The kids have secured one whole day for eating candy that makes it much easier to focus on begging for other things on other days 🙂

Both the neighbor kids and mine (this time only three at aged four, six and eight years) look forward to their candy adventure march. Paying something on their own is still somewhat exciting for some of them – also being free and responsible puts them in the perfect state to learn things and have fun.

Last time I ended up going with them. When I discovered they would simply get the bag of gummy bears (€ 1.99) – which matches their budget of €2.00 almost perfectly, I asked why they did not consider a different bag which gets them more (slightly different) bears for the same or less money. It turned out they did not think about that. I pointed out that there were always two prices. One for the whole bag and one for 100 gummy bears. I am not sure how much the 8 year old neighbor kid understands me since I don’t speak Finnish. So I simplified things for the younger ones…

They started pondering and comparing numbers. The four year old was a little lost here, but was copying what she thought the others were doing. Eventually we approached the area where various types of gummy bears could be purchased per piece/weight. The price was given per weight and a scale needed to be used to determine the total. Initially they were reluctant to use the system on their own.

They did select candies like this before, but they did not have to fit a given budget (and did not feel responsible for anything since they only came along with the grown ups) – also a grown up usually did they weighing. This time they are responsible and only had €2.00.

When I said it looked like these were cheaper by weight, they became very interested and started shoveling bears and other candies into bags. Then the weighing began. The six year old’s bag cost €1.35. He would have been happy with that. I mentioned he could go back and add more candy until the scale shows €2.00. Off he went to do just that.

The eight year old understood very quickly and managed to fill her bag with candy worth €2.00 in the second attempt.

The six year old needed to add more candy a few times and when the scale showed 2.15 I only mentioned that he may need to remove about four bears or two of the heavy big chocolate things. It turned out this was not correct and the scale was still showing €2.08. He figured he would need to remove 4 more bears and finally reached €2.00. This produced a great smile and we high-fived each other.

The four year old was weighing and optimizing her bag too. The eight year old was helping her and they managed to reach €2.01. The eight year old asked me if that is ok and I said yes.

At the checkout when they handed over their 2€ each to the smiling lady behind the counter, I pointed out how the 1 cent (€2.01 of the four year old) did not show up on the screen. I think the six year old registered that, but we did not discuss this any further. He showed no interest.

Apart from feeling more independent and grown up now, I think, especially the six year old has begun to develop a feel for associating weight with numbers, decimals and perhaps how to get more candy for the same amount of money. He also became more confident to weigh things and not to be afraid to take candy back using the scoop. He also found another important use for numbers in his life which could boost his motivation to understand them further.

Perhaps I should mention that (on a good day) the six year old can easily count to 100 (actually the four year old is almost there too). He also reads simple books (perhaps two sentences per page) to his 4 year old sister (in English or Finnish) and he finds it fun to add together very long numbers which he gets mostly right. We had never talked about decimals before though. I still did not mention the word “decimal”. In Finland school only starts at age seven – so children have more time than in most countries to learn at their own pace and what they are interested in.

I am not sure what the 4 year old got out of the candy weighing game. I think she too may have realized that numbers can be very useful when it comes to candies.
She may have also learned that €2 can get her different amounts of candy depending on her choice. She is probably a little annoyed that her older brother can do another thing she is struggling with but she may know from experience that she can do that soon too. She too of course is not afraid to put candies back and she knows now a little better what that scale is for.


Keywords: understanding decimal numbers, weighing game, candy shopping game, learning decimals


Aug 272014

My four year old daughter wanted me to pick up her shoes from the playground and bring them to her.  She was standing two meters away from me and the shoes where half way between us.

Since there was no reason she could not pick them up by herself, I pretended I can’t reach the shoes using some exaggerated body language (my hands can’t reach them) and some words.  I tried to grab them but my arms were simply too short.  She then instructed me to lift one foot:  like this… She demonstrated how to lift a foot and then how to put it down. I followed her instructions thoroughly but clearly needed another step to reach the shoes.  Again she demonstrated how to do this.  She appeared very thoughtful and serious.

Was she honestly thinking I have forgotten how to walk two steps? Or was it just fun to explain something and this is just a game? Or perhaps both?

Is it possible that, in her perceived world, memory and skills appear not very reliable?  If so, then of course her father could forget how to walk. Stranger things must have happened to her before.

The longest memory she could have at that time is about four years – her current age. In practice she remembers few things that had happened longer than a year ago. This had not been a long time to test her long term memory. She is just starting to determine which things we tend to remember well and which ones are easy to forget. Naturally my seriously claimed loss of my walking ability is not completely unbelievable with this little life experience.

Independent of that, a few days later she managed for the first time to cycle without support wheels.  She was rather proud and was checking every day during the next days if she can still cycle – if she can still remember how to do it.

After about ten days she stopped the checking game. I keep asking her occasionally though, half serious, she understands the joke I think. I feel it is a good thing to encourage thinking and talking about her own memory and skills.

I also remember her one year older brother appeared a little doubtful of his own freshly earned cycling skills after a winter break too. Indeed he was a bit wobbly at first in spring but it became “eezy peezy” soon after.

While it could be that both my memory loss and her checking on her cycling skills were probably just fun games for her and me, this did trigger some interesting questions in my mind:

  • At what age develop children a more realistic feel for what kind of memories are reliable and to what extend?
  • Adults know that you don’t just forget to cycle or walk – or do we? What does it mean to “know” something?
  • What can parents (or teachers) do to facilitate or at least not inhibit learning about children’s own memory?
  • Did I make a mistake pretending to forget something so essential and slow down her developing confidence?
  • Do/should aging people learn to doubt their memories as their skills deteriorate? Which types of memories fade away first?

It is also interesting how difficult it is to distinguish a game (pretending something) from a serious activity (not pretending). Perhaps we learn to separate these things much later. It probably has to do with responsibility and other higher level skills.


Keywords: observations in a young child, game or not game, childhood games, early games