Problems That Matter

The kids no longer believe that the ice cream truck is a music truck. That was a cute idea for a while, but they’ve wised up to the ruse. They want their ice cream novelty item, and they want it NOW.

On my way home the other day I passed the ice cream truck as it was trundling it’s musical way from my neighborhood. I exhaled a sigh of relief that I had dodged the “ICE CREAM TRUCK!” screams of my children this day. Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the house to find the 9-year-old happily devouring an ice cream sandwich with a huge grin on  his face.

“How’d you get that?” I asked.

“The ice cream truck came by, Mom! So I got my own money and bought myself an ice cream. I didn’t have $4, though, so I couldn’t buy the SpongeBob with the gumball eyes. I had to get this instead for only $2.”

Only $2. For an ice cream sandwich. Ugh. But it was his money, and he had made the financial decision to spend it on something he needed…I mean wanted. So, I decided to give him a little financial education.

The next day I bought a box of ice cream sandwiches at the grocery store. I bought the half-sized ones. There were 16 in the box. Want to guess how much it cost me?

Two dollars and fifty cents. $2.50. Yes.

On the way home from school, I told the 9-year-old that there was an ice cream treat for him in the freezer and that I had left the receipt from the grocery store out on the kitchen table. Before we arrived home, I asked him how he could compare what I paid for my box of ice cream sandwiches to what he paid for his one sandwich. I told him that mine were only half-sized. He thought for a moment and said he’d have to know how many treats were in the box, then split that number in half to know how many full-sized sandwiches were there. Good. I left it at that. I didn’t press him on the details of dividing the cost by that number. I figured I had already planted the seed of curiosity.

When we arrived home, I disappeared upstairs so that he could investigate the ice cream issue without my breathing down his neck. After a couple minutes, I came into the kitchen and asked him if he had found out how many sandwiches were in the box.

“I don’t need to know that, Mom.”

“Why not?”

“Because I looked at the receipt and saw that the box only cost $2.50. Two dollars and fifty cents!! Can you believe that, Mom?! I paid about the same amount for JUST ONE ICE CREAM SANDWICH!”

Now when the ice cream truck comes by, he calls the neighbor kids over to pay just 50 cents for one of his ice cream sandwiches!

Also (because no good parenting idea succeeds without creating another parenting challenge)…the 9-year-old now insists that he gets to have TWO sandwiches rather than one because the sandwiches I bought were only HALF sandwiches. I told him that they were actually WHOLE sandwiches, and that the ones he bought from the truck were DOUBLES. Noodle on that, kid, while you eat just ONE!

(Mathematically…because we know our kids the best, parents are in the best position to create those “real world math problems” that everyone drools over. I would not call these problems “real world” so much as “problems that matter to you.” My son was highly motivated to pay attention this particular math situation. I simply placed the opportunity in his path (here’s an ice cream!) and posed the initial question (who paid more?) There were opportunities to take it further – we could have used a calculator to figured out actual cost. Pay close attention to your child when you do something like this…notice when the problem stops being one that matters to them, and back off. Without your pressure, they will noodle on it in their spare time, notice how it connects to things they learn in school, or…not. Because it doesn’t matter anymore. Also, this “problem” worked with my son because I’ve already done things like this and this with him.)

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