Friday Thread

John has apparently been raptured, so for now it’s up to me to keep the blog going. However, I don’t have time for much more than a hit-and-run so I’ll toss out a bleg.

My 5-year-old nephew has a weird affinity for numbers. When he was 3 he got unnervingly good at memorizing where each Pittsburgh bus line goes. This Passover I helped him figure out that almost all of the Presidents on his American history placemat lasted either two four or eight years (my math not so good). He then pointed out on his own that when one President lasted an odd number of years, the the next guy filled in for a period that added up to four or eight. Then he demanded to know why Grover Cleveland showed up twice. He’s a bright kid.

It struck me that the best way to encourage my nephew would be some books or puzzles that take his interest in math and other practical puzzle solving to the next level. Google could probably get me partway there, but my past blegs (NYC restaurants, productivity programs for the Mac) have turned up some great and unexpected stuff so I’m opening the floor again.






65 replies
  1. 1
    bostondreams says:

    What’s the over/under on Sudoku suggestions? ;-)

  2. 2
    binzinerator says:

    John has apparently been raptured…

    Does that mean he’s still reading Nixonland?

  3. 3
    Andrew says:

    The best way to teach a kid anything is LEGO.

  4. 4
    jibeaux says:

    There are kids’ sudoku books. My six year old, also bright with numbers (e.g. “every time you slice the pizza, you get twice as many slices.” Okay, it’s not Einstein, but not all kids would’ve said that…), likes those.

    He also has a calculator/math game thingy called a “Math Whiz” that he likes to play in the car.

    He also likes just playing with money. My mom gave him some state quarter and nickel holders. (“Westward Expansion” nickels…through unforgiving wilderness..ooooh yes we can….Sorry.)
    He likes to add up how much $ he has and read the names of the states.

    And I also demand to know why Grover Cleveland got to show up twice.

  5. 5
    Wilfred says:

    Anything by Martin Gardner, former reviewer for Scientific American, but especially “Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions”

  6. 6
    jibeaux says:

    I just realized that twice as many slices only works up to four.

    My kid and I FAIL.

  7. 7
    Bobzim says:

    Not to be e-diagnosing, but keep this in the back of your mind.

    When he was 3 he got unnervingly good at memorizing where each of the Pittsburgh bus lines went.

    Is a classic sign. Just saying.

  8. 8
    corwin says:

    try this site.

    It is for NASA’s spacemath program for grade school kids.

  9. 9
    S says:

    I haven’t read any of these. I have picked them up from various blogs and mean to check them out once I know some little people.

    The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (Hardcover) by Norton Juster

    The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Paperback)by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Author), Rotraut Susanne Berner (Illustrator), Michael Henry Heim (Translator)

    As a kid, I liked this Cracker Barrel peg game and The Tower of Hanoi

    As a grown up, I like Set, but it may be too old for a five year old. I am not sure.

  10. 10
    mamaph says:

    My 5 year old has the same type of problem solving, math oriented mind. He has been a whiz at puzzles since before he was three. I encourage him with any type of building blocks (legos, plain wooden blocks, lincoln logs, etc.). I have started to do simple word problems with him and at school they work on patterns and process of elimination problems (he really likes those). I have also been looking for other activities that would help build these skills. Great post!

  11. 11
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    Highlights for Kids have a product called Mathmania which sounds like the ticket:

  12. 12
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    ‘Anything by Martin Gardner, former reviewer for Scientific American, but especially “Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions” ‘

    Gardner’s gonna be a bit beyond a 5-year old, even a precocious one. Maybe in 3-5 years time.

  13. 13
    b. hussein canuckistani says:

    I just realized that twice as many slices only works up to four.

    My kid and I FAIL.

    Try stacking the pizza slices before you cut.

  14. 14
    Zifnab says:

    There’s an old book called Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School. It is, appropriately enough, tied in with Sideways Stories from Wayside School, which is an excellent book for the 5-10 year age group.

    But the Sideways Arithmetic is a rather subtle and clever way of teaching your kid Algebra before he even knows what it is.

    Either way, its all good.

  15. 15
    Jake says:

    John McCain: not so good with teh math when it comes to troops in Iraq.

    An awesome fuckup really. Good stuff.

  16. 16
    Darkness says:

    I’m partial to Grapher, which is bundled with 10.5 That visualization, I think, would have made a massive difference in my perception of math had I gotten it long before my brain lost plasticity.

    There were a couple of math books I had when I was younger, I I remember finding the notion of number patterns fascinating, which it sounds like this kid is into.

    link.

    This one looks interesting too, given the age we are talking about:

    link.

    Math skills and musical skills tend to cluster. Someone might consider piano lessons too. Or just go straight to improv jazz.

    [embed your links. -ed.]

  17. 17
    Crusty Dem says:

    I just realized that twice as many slices only works up to four.

    My kid and I FAIL.

    Unless she just means twice as many slices as cuts (total), in which case only you fail (as the father of a rather precocious 6 year old myself, I’m used to fail).

  18. 18
    marjowil says:

    I agree with Bobzim. Aspie for sure:

    Bobzim Says:

    Not to be e-diagnosing, but keep this in the back of your mind.

    When he was 3 he got unnervingly good at memorizing where each of the Pittsburgh bus lines went.

    Is a classic sign. Just saying.

    My son is Asperger’s. Age five is about when it shows up, too. It may or may not be a biggie… but it never hurts to have information and be prepared. My son is eligible for support in school and also has a social worker. I don’t know what I would’ve done with knowing about Asperger’s. It explains a lot. I call my kid quirky or nerdy (not an insult – always had a thing for nerds), but it is easier to cope and to help him fit in.

    Your nephew’s dad may be Aspie or high-functioning autistic as well… Tends to go father to son.

  19. 19
    benr242 says:

    Alice is a graphical introduction to computer programming. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard great things about it, including from one of my professors who thought she might use it to teach students who would consider Computer Science as a major but are a bit intimidated.

  20. 20
    John Harrold says:

    http://www.makezine.com/

    Make Magazine?

    It may be a little above his level, but I think make magazine is a fine way to stimulate young kids interested in things like science and math. It’s also cool because he’ll get a new one every month.

  21. 21
    jibeaux says:

    Unless she just means twice as many slices as cuts (total)

    That *does* work. I’ve decided to interpret it that way.

  22. 22
    Warren Terra says:

    I liked math and logic puzzles as a kid (still do), and one of the few specific things that comes to mind was Go, the Japanese board game. You can find graded books of Go puzzles, and they are pure logic at the lower levels and pure art at the higher levels. Good for spatial reasoning and logical consequences.

    I’d also endorse the above suggestion of Legos and other similar free-form and reconfigurable toys.

  23. 23
    CrazyNewfie says:

    Screw sudoku, that’ll bore him to hell after a few rounds.

    Get the kid a book on number theory!

  24. 24
    EJ says:

    “Not to be e-diagnosing, but keep this in the back of your mind.”

    Please stop.

    Asperger’s diagnosed over the internet based on a couple of anecdotes is pretty much the absolute lamest side effect of modern technology. Ever since I was small I’ve loved memorizing maps and schedules, and I get along just fine, thanks.

  25. 25
    TheFountainHead says:

    I can make no suggestions of my own, as Math was never my strong suit (if you exclude geometry, which I could teach) but I would encourage you to explore mathematical puzzles that require reading. Being able to synthesize a young child’s math skills into reading comprehension exercise is perhaps the best thing you could do for him in the long term. If he “sees” the math and likes the math, and is forced to get at it through comprehending the language, he will learn to “see” language as a result.

  26. 26
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    If your nephew also likes baseball then buy him a Baseball Encyclopedia. Stats, and especially baseball stats, are the funnest of numbers.

  27. 27
    wasabi gasp says:

    Makin’ breakthroughs in a cool pad: Chicks Dig Calculus

  28. 28
    Dennis - SGMM says:

    Asperger’s diagnosed over the internet based on a couple of anecdotes is pretty much the absolute lamest side effect of modern technology. Ever since I was small I’ve loved memorizing maps and schedules, and I get along just fine, thanks.

    If Bill Frist can diagnose Terry Schiavo via home made video then anything can be diagnosed over the internets.

  29. 29
    Bobzim says:

    That’s why I wasn’t doing it, di..I mean, EJ.

  30. 30
    Rick Taylor says:

    There’s a classic I loved growing up. It may be a bit advanced for a five year old, but I’ll throw it out anyway. One, Two, Three, . . .Infinity. That’s where I learned about the universal printing press and different orders of infinity.

  31. 31
    Punchy says:

    It struck me that the best way to encourage my nephew would be some books or puzzles that take his interest in math and other practical puzzle solving to the next level

    Easy. Have him keep track of how often the Lakers cover the spread in May on the road, as well as how Halladay’s penchant for throwing complete games affects the o/u on Blue Jays home games at nite. You can use a portion of all the scratch he earns for you for some kick-ass birthday gift for him….

  32. 32
    libarbarian says:

    I used to love the Speak & Math

  33. 33
    marjowil says:

    There’s nothing wrong with liking maps and schedules, and there’s also nothing wrong with being Asperger’s. They are not mutually exclusive.

    My kid is not good at math, but the sign of Asperger’s is not necessarily interest in math but rather intense interest in a narrowly defined subject matter. At five my kid was obsessive about trains and knew all about them backwards and forwards. Others might get into weather or dinosaurs or whatever.

    My son’s interests also tend to migrate… He immerses himself into something and eventually moves on. He is 10 and now mostly interested in world history, such as Pre-Colombian art and Mayan stuff; before that was Egypt, Greco-Roman, Samarai Japan, etc. So maybe he will wind up a history prof — maybe not.

    But with the intense interest in a chosen subject matter, social skills tend to lag. Aspies are late picking up non-verbal cues from other people, have trouble making friends. The value of having a diagnosis early is that these areas, such as body language, can be taught so that the kid isn’t totally ostracized.

    I was a bit of a nerd myself and still tend to be obsessive about some subjects (politics, anyone?), but my husband is a far more extreme case. People usually just think he’s weird. (Again: me, attracted to weird.)

    Sorry if talking about this offends anyone. I know that when I learned my son might be Asperger’s, it was like the son breaking through clouds because so much was explained. That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for the possibility. Who’s gonna turn down help when it comes to your kid? If it’s not applicable or not helpful, disregard. No offense intended.

  34. 34
    libarbarian says:

    Tell him Math is for girls and he should take Home-Ec and marry a rich woman.

  35. 35
    marjowil says:

    okay, “son breaking through clouds” = sun breaking through clouds.

  36. 36
    Fledermaus says:

    I can make no suggestions of my own, as Math was never my strong suit (if you exclude geometry, which I could teach)

    Me too. I’ve always hated numbers. I was OK at some upper math because I have strong logic skills but it bored the hell out of me. But I did like geometry.

    Language and grammar, on the other hand, is all sorts of fun.

  37. 37
    Jack H. says:

    Chess is a great thing for math/science oriented kids. Supposedly there are a bunch of studies showing it helps academic achievement more than any other extracurricular activity but I always take such studies with a few grains of salt. Most importantly it’s fun. The Chessmaster series is a cheap program that will teach rules, strategy and provide a wide variety of strengths or opponents.

  38. 38
    Warren Terra says:

    Oh, one other thing comes to mind. It’s not math-oriented, but I think I’d recommend it to anyone with kids: the David MacAulay books (Castle, Cathedral, etcetera). I was a teenager before his major project, The Way Things Work came out, but it looked like fun and it looked like I’d have adored it had it been available when I was a few years younger.

    If you’re not acquainted, MacAulay did a bunch of beautifully illustrated books showing how various early societies functioned and how they achieved major constrution projects in his earlier works, before using the same talents to illustrate the principles behind common household items.

    His Motel Of The Mysteries is also a wickedly funny look at 1970’s America through the lends of much later, and much misguided, archaeologists.

  39. 39
    RedMolly says:

    As the math-phobic mom of a couple of mathophile kids, I’m loving these suggestions… thanks!

    A couple resources I’ve come across myself:

    Calculus By and For Young People (fascinating! not scary!) the MindBenders series from Critical Thinking the 1-2-3 OY! card game (variety of math games playable with one deck)

  40. 40
    RedMolly says:

    Sorry… that list looked fine in preview!

  41. 41

    Chess is a great thing for math/science oriented kids.

    That is, if they have the maturity and/or attention span for it (speaking as the father of a math/science-oriented boy who was asked to not come back to after-school Chess Club). When that happened, we sat his ass down that evening and made him play a few games. He knew all the moves, and deliberately made almost every single move in such a way that his piece would be captured immediately: boom, boom, boom; check, can I go now?

  42. 42
    charles says:

    Anything by Martin Gardner…

    I have to say that “Gardner’s Whys and Wherefores” (a collection of essays and reviews) is the single most boring book I have ever tried to read. A friend gave me his crisp-looking copy, and now I know why. Maybe someone out there has the attentional fortitude for this book, but not me.

  43. 43
    J Smith II says:

    I hate professional baseball (I quit after the ’94 non-season), but growing up we went a fair amount and my dad taught me to score games (I think I started around 7 or 8). It’s a great way to work on several different skills at once, numbers, attention to detail, motor skills, addition,and I’m sure there are others too.

    Find a minor league or college team, a decent scorers book, and a bunch of pencils, trust me, it’s something he’ll always remember.

  44. 44
    eric says:

    maybe sokoban. here’s a good free version. it’s really not for kids that young…and the puzzles get progressively harder, but he might enjoy the first few:

    http://www.tucows.com/preview/214299

  45. 45
    Jack H. says:

    Almost every math or physics person I know plays a classical instrument with widely varying degrees of expertise.

  46. 46
    Brachiator says:

    You might take a look at Teach Your Child Math: Making Math Fun for the Both of You, by Arthur Benjamin. This may be out of print, but might be available here and there.

    Also, by the same author, Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks, which is widely available. From the Amazon Site page:

    These simple math secrets and tricks will forever change how you look at the world of numbers.

    Secrets of Mental Math will have you thinking like a math genius in no time. Get ready to amaze your friends—and yourself—with incredible calculations you never thought you could master, as renowned “mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin shares his techniques for lightning-quick calculations and amazing number tricks. This book will teach you to do math in your head faster than you ever thought possible, dramatically improve your memory for numbers, and—maybe for the first time—make mathematics fun.

    Yes, even you can learn to do seemingly complex equations in your head; all you need to learn are a few tricks. You’ll be able to quickly multiply and divide triple digits, compute with fractions, and determine squares, cubes, and roots without blinking an eye. No matter what your age or current math ability, Secrets of Mental Math will allow you to perform fantastic feats of the mind effortlessly. This is the math they never taught you in school.

    TV actress Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years) discovered that she was a bit of a math whiz, and has written a fun math book (“Math Doesn’t Suck), has a web site with lots of math related tips and links, and is even the co-author of the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem. Her story might give you some useful tips for math-related stuff (Between Series, an Actress Became a Superstar (in Math))

    If your nephew is into baseball, or even basketball, this might provide an entry into the one realm of math, especially since these sports have a fairly deep base of statistical analysis.

    My family includes a number of math proficient individuals. Oddly enough, none of us have any great fondness for math puzzles, but prefer our math straight, no chaser. When she was around 8 years old, my niece would proof her mother’s work-related spreadsheets.

  47. 47
    Martin says:

    Another rec for grapher. My son loved just playing around with it when he was 6-ish.

    Sukoku, natch. Legos as well.

    Card games too – we play uno some evenings and the youngest is required to add up the score. At first I put the cards out in an order that tends to add to 10s to make it easier. Then later I shuffle them and just put them out in random order.

    Cribbage is good. Lots of adding to 15 in various ways. Permutations. Good strategy – some casual stats to know which cards to dump/hold.

  48. 48
    b. hussein canuckistani says:

    Almost every math or physics person I know plays a classical instrument with widely varying degrees of expertise.

    Well, if you count playing viola in a high school orchestra 30 years ago, then yes. Nowadays, I play electric guitar because it’s funner, noisier and Ramones songs mean instant gratification – none of that practising and learning notes shit.

  49. 49
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    If you want to get him one of the One Laptop Per Child laptops off of Ebay ($$$) then those work pretty well. My kid likes his a lot, and they have a couple of nice math applications.

  50. 50
    jake says:

    When he was 3 he got unnervingly good at memorizing where each of the Pittsburgh bus lines went.

    A De Lorme map of his home state.

    Also, early Beatles. (For the beat, man!)

  51. 51
    Cain says:

    Maybe your nephew can tell Hillary she doesn’t have the votes to win.

    cain

  52. 52
    sam says:

    Try Brain Age for Nintendo DS. It’s full of great math/pattern recognition/memorization games. It tracks your progress on a daily basis and gets progressively tough as you improve your skills. It’s perfect for the little will hunting you described.

  53. 53
    BethanyAnne says:

    I’ve always been a math geek. One thing that struck me when y’all were mentioning language, is that I’ve thought of math as my first language for a long time. I was fascinated with Lego as a kid, and played with them for hours. Even now, I’m interested in a book like this. Woo, preview is saying this comment is broken; wonder what will make it into the comment. The Asperger’s thread reminded me ofthis classification. Of course, I’m geek enough to think she got geek and nerd backwards ;-)
    Bethany

  54. 54
    BethanyAnne says:

    Cain Says:

    Maybe your nephew can tell Hillary she doesn’t have the votes to win.

    cain

    WIN

  55. 55
    Marshall says:

    This Passover I helped him figure out that almost all of the Presidents on his American history placemat lasted either two or eight years.

    Do tell about those 2 year American Presidents. My placemats skipped those.

  56. 56
    dd says:

    Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic – for any bright kid

    Gardner, Wheels, Life and Other Mathematical Amusements – for you to read so that you can introduce fun math topics to him as he becomes ready

  57. 57
    grumpy realist says:

    Hmmm–two sets:

    Anything written by Raymond Smullyan (The Lady or the Tiger, What is the Name of This Book, etc.) is great and a great introduction to logic.

    Also probably a little early but I always loved for Calculus “Prof. E.C. McSquared Guide To Calculus”

    ….it’s a comic book, goes into a great deal of the guts of calculus, and is funny as well.

    Also suggested when your son is a little older are the “Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland” books by George Gamow. Great way to learn about relativity and atomic physics.

    You might want to dig up as many volumes as you can of the Time-Life series on science. I think out of print now, but I devoured those as a kid. Some great authors as well–I have a copy of “Man and Space” written by Arthur C. Clarke on my shelf as we speak.

  58. 58
    trentness says:

    The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base is a beautifully illustrated children’s book with a lot of hidden puzzles, both verbal and mathematic. Some of them are maybe a bit out of a five-year-old’s range (Amazon lists it for ages 9-12) but it’s a fun read anyway.
    Really, most anything by Graeme Base is great for kids.

  59. 59
    gex says:

    Is recommending ‘C Jump’ the board game that teaches kids the C programming language going too far?

  60. 60
    rachel says:

    Bobzim Says:

    Not to be e-diagnosing, but keep this in the back of your mind.

    When he was 3 he got unnervingly good at memorizing where each of the Pittsburgh bus lines went.

    Is a classic sign. Just saying.

    And here I thought it was a classic sign of living in Pittsburgh.

  61. 61
    gex says:

    I second the Set recommendation. Excellent game. If it’s too much for a five year old, don’t worry. It won’t take long.

  62. 62
    empty says:

    marjowil Says:

    okay, “son breaking through clouds” = sun breaking through clouds.

    I thought your earlier construction was more poetic :)

  63. 63
    Smurfyhoser says:

    Greg Tang’s books are fabulous and span 4-10 age ranges:

    Math Potatoes
    Grapes of Math
    Math Fables (Math Fables 2 is my 4-year old daughter’s favorite so far)
    Math-terpieces

    etc.

    I bought them all. Great stuff.

  64. 64
    skandha1110 says:

    I played a little logic game called ‘mastermind’ a lot with my father as a youngster, and enjoyed it quite a bit. One of the few games I remember liking — a lot less annoying than checkers, chinese checkers, etc. for some reason. I downloaded a free ‘clone’ of mastermind for my Linux/Ubuntu system just recently, but there are other ways to check it out (including online). e.g.,:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.....oard_game)

    Good luck!
    jeff

  65. 65
    Phoebe says:

    Rubik Cube?
    My nephew also has an obsession with the presidents, which began with his placemat of the presidents. And his mom says he has Aspberger’s, so maybe the president placemat is the sign. Or the cause!

    I hate sudoku.

    If he’s five, he’s going to like these:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisenaire_rods

    Yeah, they are a teaching tool, but the best thing [which the instructions will also tell you] is just to let the kid play with them first. I loved them.

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