Thursday, July 18, 2013

Impractical Math

This summer, my husband has Hannah on a daily math worksheet routine.  She objects, naturally, but mostly she does them when he's home, so I don't have to have the weeping and snivelling and flopping around I get with real math homework during the school year.


Today, however, she was working on money math after lunch.  She'd already had her melt-down for the day, and been sent to bed for a half-hour about it.  So, thankfully, with that part out of the way, she managed to get through her worksheets without too much drama.  But it occurs to me that money math must be ridiculously abstract for children in the 21st century.  
"Dara has 5 coins in her purse.  The coins total 50¢.  What coins does she have?"
"What is the easiest way to make 79¢?"
"If Jake uses 2 quarters to pay for an eraser that costs 32¢, what will his change be?"
Sometimes I get out a jar of coins to make it easier for Hannah.  But that usually results in at least 30 minutes of messing around making towers of pennies.  Coins have no practical application for children.

When I was in elementary school, you could buy two pencils out of a vending machine in the cafeteria for a dime, and you had to present your weekly 20¢ to the lunch lady to get your little carton of chocolate milk every day during break time.  Yeah.  Afternoon milk break.  Anyone remember that?  But there is nothing conceivable that Hannah could buy right now using that kind of pocket change.  Not to mention the school actively discourages you from sending cash lunch money with your child, preferring you load your child's lunch account online with your credit card.  I'm obstinate, and usually send a check to school to avoid the $2 fee charged by the company that manages the website.  My husband thinks I'm goofy:  "That's why they call it a convenience fee."  But my real complaint is that children may never learn to manage actual money without the very real possibility of being served a cheese sandwich and white milk for lunch as a consequence for losing their lunch money on the way to school.

I'm all for children, even mine, learning about natural consequences, especially when the stakes are low.  Hannah has known since she started school that if she brought a toy to school, and it was taken away by her teacher, I was not going to school to get it back.  Luckily, she actually did lose a string of parade beads in kindergarten; I was perfectly comfortable letting those go into the trash beside the teacher's desk.  Thank goodness that happened before she was carrying things like iPods or cell phones around.  The idea that if children learn their lessons on a small scale, they will translate them into larger terms later is my guiding principle here.  I'm willing to lose $2 of lunch money a couple times to help my daughter learn how to handle money, and to understand that it has value and importance.  A couple cheese sandwiches along the way won't hurt her.

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