The Numbers in My Head

The numbers won’t keep still. They keep jumping round in my head, and turning and chasing each other, until I can’t even remember which way they’re supposed to be. And I look at my worksheet, and the numbers in my head laugh, and go off to play another game of tag. I tell them to come back, stand straight, keep still. I tell them that out there, there is a number line that can tell them exactly what to do and how to behave. But they know that in here, inside my head, there is no number line. There is no way of stopping them playing ring-a-rosies, or hide and seek. So they laugh and play and won’t listen to me when I tell them to keep still, I’m trying to do my sums.

So I send the monsters after them. And sometimes they come back, and stand in line, and I think, just for a moment, that maybe this time I can do the sum. But then one of them burps, or giggles, or sticks his tongue out at me, and they are off again. Laughing, and playing, and never standing still.

The teacher tells me that numbers always go in the same order. Mummy says I shouldn’t need the number line out there. So I know my numbers are being naughty. And I really do want them to be good. I never told them to be naughty. I never told them it was alright to jump around and swop themselves over, and never ever stand still. But my teacher says that numbers always go in the same order, that sums always have the same answer. And Mummy says the number line out there is the same as the number line in here. But I don’t have a number line in my head. If I stop and think very carefully, and call very nicely, I can make my numbers stand in a row. 1,2,3,4,5. But I can’t make them stand backwards, and I can’t make them jump in twos, or do any of those other things.

So I draw bigger monsters. And soldiers to make them march in line. And even bigger, and scarier monsters. Because maybe that will make them listen. Maybe if there’s a monster standing there, my numbers will stand in line, and I can count them, and do sums. And make a number line in my head. It seems like a good idea, and maybe it is working, because now the numbers are scared. They’re falling over themselves, and pointing and shouting.

And running away.

And now there are no numbers left. My scary monsters have scared them all away.


[This post is a response to a blog that I read by Fanny P. and is aimed to encourage her to persevere, to find a way to put the number line in his head.]


4 thoughts on “The Numbers in My Head

  1. Blessed to be able to ponder over this amazing subject. Allowed to have our own personal thoughts about our experiences and how our children are affected by a number line. As an adult it seems so simple, however Rox gives it to us as it really is!!
    THANK YOU for once again sharing your heart and helping an older generation to understand how to assist our grandchildren. Glory and honour to our heavenly Father.


  2. Some of the problem, as I am sure we all know, is caring too much. It’s such a fine line to spill over into anxiety and frustration instead of helping. We desperately want them to do what is expected of them and so we keep pushing. The responses on Fanny’s blog are brilliant and so supportive and helpful, but when we try out the new stuff to see if it works we fall back once more into familiar habits, familiar anger (if only towards ourselves). I can remember my husband sitting down with son no.1, and the moment he got into “You should be able to do this, can’t you understand?”, aforementioned son switched off. You could literally see the protective screen come down over his eyes, he felt threatened. And useless and stupid. Yet my husband is a very good and patient professional educator who has inspired generations of kids; he just cared too much about this one and it got under his skin. I don’t know the solution to any of this. We did all the active things like letting him work sums out physically and relate them to his everyday life, ensuring he did homework when it was set and checking his books, meetings with teachers, strategies. Gradually things began to click. I personally remember the horror of learning to tell the time. My younger sister got it months before me. I felt humiliated not to know (analogue clock, but I think there are different difficulties, just as hard, with abstract digital) how these numbers related to periods of five minutes. Incomprehension is so scary. Well done Rox, this is exactly how it feels.


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