It’s getting harder to create spontaneous mathy moments with my kids. Most of the time, they are in school. When they come home, I’d rather they run around outside. So, I have to pay attention and seek opportunities.

The 6-year-old and I were walking to school yesterday, when he started to count his steps. So I did, too, thinking to myself that this was going to be an awfully plain mathy moment.

After we counted our steps to the first telephone pole, I changed the way I was counting. I started counting by 2’s. He walked and counted up to 10. I walked and counted up to 20. Then I said, “Wow! Did I just take 20 steps? I took 10 steps more than you!”

“Noooooo!,” he responded, “You took the same number of steps. ”

“Did I? But I counted 20, and you counted 10.”

“You counted differently, Mom. You counted by 2’s. It’s the same number of steps.”

So, we counted by 2’s together, stopping every now and then to figure out how many steps we had really taken. This offered the opportunity to use different math vocabulary, because the 6-year-old isn’t familiar with “20 divided by 2” yet:

“I counted twice as many steps as I actually walked.”

“Take that number and cut it in half.”

“What number plus itself equals 20?”

“What is half of twenty?”

“Two groups of what number is 20?”

“How many times does 2 go into 20?”

When we got to the school playground, he was excited to show me that he could cross the entire length of the monkey bars – and while he did that, I counted the bars by 2’s. I asked him how many bars there were based on my count, and he told me very clearly to stop it. Then he headed through the doors of the school and began his day.

I let it go.  I let him go.

When he doesn’t answer my mathy questions, I know that he has had enough, and I have learned not to push him. I step back, and he sometimes steps forward. (I am learning that I have to plant seeds differently with this kid than I did with the first.)

In the afternoon, he ran out the doors of the school and went straight to the monkey bars and swung himself across all of them. I counted aloud…2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18. When he dropped to the ground at the end, he looked up and said, “That’s 9 bars, Mom, because 9 is half of 18.”

And our plain little mathy moment became something more.

Mathematically speaking…practicing skip counting helps to set a solid foundation for understanding multiplication, which is just repeated addition. Start playing with 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s when you skip count. Your child might join in, or she might not. Doesn’t matter. If your child isn’t ready to join in, she is, at least, observing you play with numbers and have fun. That sets an example. Later, he may surprise you by starting a skip count himself. When it’s time, raise the challenge by skip counting by 3’s, 4’s, and more. To introduce 3’s, I’ve started chanting “Three! Six! Nine! Twelve!” in the car (when he can’t escape!), then we try to find a word that rhymes with twelve. It’s silly, but that chant will lodge itself in his head and be part of his mathematical foundation. When it’s time to learn multiplication facts, he will already be comfortable with repeated addition.