Given a constraint, we often make a discovery. Today I had to read aloud a folktale to a class for my Storytelling class at Pratt. I chose One Grain of Rice, a title which I thought would be appropriate to a patterning theme for 4th grade, but my schedule only offered a Pre-K class of 3 year olds. So I stopped by and asked the teacher if any of the kids “played” with big numbers. One kid did, she said, but encouraged me to go ahead with the book.
We started off with the nursery rhyme of The Journey to St. Ives….and held up one hand (5), and counted on the other two fingers (6,7) as we read the nursery rhyme….this was to get us in the mood for numbers. Then as we read the story, they repeated orally the numbers that get increasingly longer and one grain of rice is doubled for 30 days. The one kid already played with numbers shouted out, “Oh no, next time it will be four thousand, four hundred five hundred six thousand two hundred,” or something like that! Young kids string together numbers they have heard, but do not yet know how to create numbers. When we came to a million, he threw that in the mix, and thus acquired a new number to his list which ended at a thousand before. Many kids repeated the numbers, showing engagement and comprehension, and one kid came to grab the book as I finished reading it.
Sometimes a higher level book is just what is needed to develop a sense of wonder and imagination. I will follow up and see how many numbers they can come up with next time I see them, and see if a million stuck in the one kid’s vocabulary or in anyone else’s!