Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Seventeen Through Fifteen: Brad Learns About Math, Reading, and Earth

     I'm counting down the days until Brad comes home by sharing a memory of him for each day.  This post is numbers seventeen through fifteen, catching me up from yesterday and getting me a day ahead.  They all involve him learning and could have been grouped together but they're all distinct memories in my mind.  You can read previous entries in this series by using the menu on the side of the page. 

Brad Learns Math
     When Brad was just a baby I started counting whenever I would carry him up stairs.  One, two, three, four, five, six.  It was just a way to teach him counting and it worked.  It wasn't long after he was talking that he was counting each step with me.  Then he started counting things and I was one proud Daddy.  I would lay toys on the ground and point to them and say "one" and he would continue with two, three, four, five, six. I was prouder of this little thing crawling around on the carpet for his rudimentary counting than I'd ever been of myself for anything.
     This little head start in math continued and I introduced addition to him when he was only three.  He took to it like a Murray to food.  It became one of our car conversations. "Daddy, what's nine plus five?"  "Fourteen."  "Daddy, what's eleven plus seven?"  "Eighteen." "Daddy, what's three plus one?"  "You tell me."  Out would come the little fingers and he would count under his breath one, two, three..."Four, Daddy." "Good job buddy." Sometimes this would go on for an hour or more.
     It would try my patience, of course, but whenever it did I would recall a very early memory from my childhood.  I believe I was about four and I was outside in the yard watching my mom hang laundry.  I had just learned my directions right from left but I didn't understand that my right was always going to be my right and my left was always going to be my left no matter which way I turned.  Mom had explained it to me but I just didn't get it. So I would turn one way and ask Mom which was right and which was left.  She would answer and I'd turn another direction and ask.  Then she would answer and I would repeat it again and again.  I don't know how long this went on but in my memory it seemed to last for hours. The thing is my mom never got mad or frustrated.  She just kept answering the same question over and over and hanging and folding her laundry.  It's easy to get frustrated as a parent with the same question over and over but repetition is how children learn and whenever I got frustrated by toddler Brad I would always remember my mom with toddler me.  I wonder if Mom knew she was teaching me how to be a parent as she was teaching me my directions.
     As Brad entered school all the patience paid off.  He's always been ahead of his class in math.  Last year they had to do one hundred addition facts in five minutes and one hundred subtraction facts in five minutes and get more than ninety-five of them right to pass second grade.  Brad had these goals complete with months to spare and was on his way close to one hundred multiplication facts when the school year ended.  Watching him learn multiplication has been great.  I've been able to teach him all the tricks like anything times one is itself, anything times two is doubled, anything time five will end in a five or zero, anything times ten is the number with a zero behind it.  All that good stuff we take for granted.  When he understands one of these tricks his eyes light up and he says, "It's like a cheat code in video games."  I just laugh at the way his mind works and smile in wonder that it all started with counting while climbing steps.

Brad Gets Motivated To Read
     It was easy to teach Brad math but reading was a different beast.  I think I assumed that since it came naturally to me it would to him too.  He was always interested in stories but he always wanted me to read them to him.  Maybe I was just too good of a storyteller.  When I made him read on his own he would for a few minutes and then wander away.  When he entered kindergarten I knew he could read but I knew he wasn't at the level he needed to be or that I wanted him at.
     Things slowly improved in the first half of the school year but he was still behind his class when Christmas rolled around.  We knew it wasn't a question of intelligence as he was way ahead of his class in math so we asked him what was going on.  He said he just didn't like to read, he didn't see the point, and it was boring.  He couldn't have wounded his father more if he had announced he was a Cubs fan.
     I had an ace up my sleeve, though.  He wanted Nintendo's newest handheld system for Christmas.  Sherri and I discussed telling him Santa told us not to give it to him until he improved his reading but I had a better idea that wouldn't leave him disappointed on Christmas morning.  They had released a remake of one of the greatest video games of all time, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and since it was a very story heavy game made it the days before spoken voice on video games was normal there was lots of reading required in the game.  Santa got him his system he wanted and that game for Christmas.
     I hyped the game up to him.  I told him it was one of the greatest games of all time and that I remembered playing it for hours with my friend Brad.  I told him I would help him whenever he got stuck but that he would have to do all the reading in the game himself.  It took a bit for this to sink in as he would ask me to read stuff to him a lot the first couple of days but after I stuck to my guns and the story of the game sucked him in I could see him begin to enjoy the reading.  We beat the game in two months and by then end of the school year he was a grade level ahead in reading.  Now he loves reading as much as his dad does and I have Nintendo and the Legend of Zelda to thank for it.

Brad Knows Day From Night
     When Brad was five, in yet another car conversation, we got to talking about day and night.  One of my rules of thumb for parenting is to never underestimate what he can handle so in conversations like that I tend to answer above his level of understanding.  I explained to him how the earth tilts on axis and completes a rotation everyday and how it orbits around the sun and that's why there is day and night and why they last for different amounts of time in every season.  He listened quietly and asked a couple questions but it didn't seem like something that stuck.  It didn't bother me because it really was a bit much for a five year old. 
     Fast forward a year, and we're in a first grade parent teacher conference. The teacher is explaining how she knew Brad as a kindergartener and requested him in her first grade class and how she got what she asked for.  She said she loved having him in her class even if she wanted to hang him from the ceiling fan by his shoelaces sometimes.  She said it was his participation in class that made it all worth it even if sometimes he got a little advanced for first grade.
     I sort of dreaded what was coming next.  With my never underestimate what he can handle philosophy I had always let him watch things he shouldn't on television like the Simpsons and Family Guy.  I would just tell him the stuff he couldn't repeat and if he didn't understand something that he shouldn't understand until much older I would just tell him that I would tell him when he was older.  He accepted this and was always pretty good about not repeating what he shouldn't.  Still, it had always been an issue of contention between his mother and I and when his teacher said that I thought I was going to have to eat some major crow.
     Instead, his teacher tells us about how they were reading a book in class about day and night and she asked her students to tell her differences in day and night.  A few other students answered with things like one is dark and one is bright and the sun is out and the moon is out.  Then she called on Brad.  He stood up and started gesturing with his hands and explaining how the earth is tilted on an axis and makes a complete spin everyday and how it orbits the sun and that's why there is day and night and why they last for a different amount of time in different seasons.  I recalled our ten minute conversation from a year before that hadn't seemed to amount to much and wore my shit eating grin of fatherhood again.  I never know what is going to stick with him and when I might be teaching him something and that amazes me.

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