A recent 2nd grade homework assignment became the opportunity to delve deeper into math as well as to connect to family (again!). And it all started with the need for a ruler.

“Mom, do you have a ruler?”

“Oh yes. I’m sure I do…let me go find it…”

“Never mind. I’ll ask Dad. He’ll have one in the basement at his workbench.”

“It’s no problem…I think I have one right over here…”

Huh. Okay. I guess. Is there something wrong with MY ruler? Who knows. Let’s let Dad deal. And what a good idea to let Dad deal! I would have just pulled one from my collection of plastic rulers that I have from teaching Geometry. Nothing particularly notable about these rulers, though the fact that they are transparent is pretty cool, I think. Instead, Dad asked if a yardstick would be acceptable. The kid had to think. Then the kid asked if a yardstick shows inches. When this was confirmed, the kid said yes to the yardstick.

And so my husband produced a very special yardstick. It was wooden, and extended the requisite 36 inches. But it was personalized – a gift given by another teacher to my husband’s mother when she taught first grade. It has apples painted on it. As I left the house for the evening, my husband and my son were settling into the couch to marvel over the yardstick.

When I returned later in the evening, the homework had been finished (it was a fairly straightforward measuring assignment), and father and son were back on the couch, yardstick in hand. I asked the 8-year-old what he had learned, and here is what I learned…

“You see this little marky mark, Mom?”

Yes. (I chose to overlook the pop-culture reference.)

“That’s a one-eighth. And that next one there is a one-fourth.”

He kept going, showing off whatever it was that he and his father had talked about while I was gone. I briefly pointed out that those numbers (1/8, 1/4, 1/2) were kind of interesting because they were similar to what we’d discovered in our family tree drawing last week. And that’s all I said, hoping that the similarities would marinate in his head for a bit along with whatever else he had learned that night.

(Mathematically…playing around with rulers or measuring tapes is a great way to help young kids develop their numerical understanding. First, measuring things is FUN for a kid. Particularly with a measuring tape. It makes a great stocking stuffer! Second, it’s a way to set the foundations for understanding fractions. A ruler, after all, is just a number line.)