Here’s a fun activity that I like to do in my classroom each October. When
I suggest it to the parents
of my students, they usually tell me that the family had
a good time with it. So
read this before you carve up that Halloween pumpkin!
The pumpkin can help you to teach a skill that can be improved only with
When you’ve got all the insides scooped out, get that gloppy mass
together and ask all the
family members how many seeds they think there are.
Perhaps one of the kids
can serve as secretary for this one. (Make it a kid whose
hands have not ventured
into the stringy mess!)
Chances are good that the younger the child, the higher the guess will
be. Don’t be surprised if
your five-year-old guesses something like “a thousand,”
“a million,” or “infinity.”
This indicates that he doesn’t really understand the
meaning of these numbers.
An exercise like this is valuable because it makes numbers real for
children. They have heard
people talk about having fifty, one hundred, or one
thousand of something, but
do they actually understand what these figures
mean? This is an opportunity
to make a concrete relationship between a word
for a number and the number
After you count fifty or one hundred pumpkin seeds, give everyone a
chance to revise her or
his estimate. Emphasize that you are not in this to win
anything; it’s just family
fun time. By the time kids get to second or third grade,
their estimates will be
closer to reality.
During this process, ask an older child to explain her thinking to you.
the kids are not able to
verbalize their thinking, share yours with them: “It looks
like we have counted about
half of the seeds,” you explain. “So far there are
200. So, if that’s about
half, I think that there will be about 400 all together.”
Opportunities to estimate will present themselves in many ways: how
many M & M’s are in
the bag? How many pennies are in a little jar? How many
carrots are in the package?
As you practice these activities with your children,
you bring the reality of
numbers to them.
Don’t forget this next summer when the family sits down to the season’s
first watermelon. (Hint:
This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s Advice