Negative Numbers and Positive Attitude

I have heard people say that the best age to tell your kids about sex is when they are five. They accept it naturally and you're still able to look them straight in their eyes while going into details. Plus, you know more than they on the topic, and that won't be the case for too long. Well, my six year old daughter has yet to ask me about sex and I am hesitant to volunteer the information. But she just asked me about negative numbers. She did not actually use the words “negative numbers.” She told me that someone at school said that you can take away 3 from 2 and still get something. I opened my mouth to reply that she would learn all this in a few years at school and shouldn't be worrying for now, but looking into my daughter's expecting eyes realized mid-sentence how un-educational and betraying this is going to be. You are The The Math Mom, and should grab this opportunity. Surprisingly, a curious analogy popped out in my mind. Different flowers reach different heights, which we can measure with a ruler. But what are we going to do with carrots? They grow downwards, in the opposite direction from the flowers. Continuing the measurements down, we step from 0 to -1, and then to -2, -3... We marked our hand-drawn carrots with their “negative” length. My daughter looked satisfied. I looked proud and self-satisfied.

Of course, a couple of minutes later she claimed that 60-60 = 10 and I mused that she should go work at the bank and do such magic there. For better or worse, I believe that such attitude is a very important quality we can and should be shaping. Presenting math as fun: playful and interesting. Sharing our daily math encounters with kids. Discussing puzzles at the dinner table. Demonstrating our confidence in kids' achievements and implanting the desire to succeed. But we have to start early, we won't know more than our kids for too long.

What scientists are saying:
A number of scientific studies have demonstrated that cultural and environmental factors, and not intellect, are what limit women's achievement in math. Link to the most recent study review in Boston Globe. Another study has shown that boosting self-confidence just before a test, reminding students how well they did it last time and are expected to do again, results in a significant performance improvement. And, conversely, mentioning to students a possible negative disposition that they might have inherited, leads to an immediate drop in performance.

What's in the logo?
What do you think about the new The Math Mom's logo? Designing the logo, we were hoping to make it inspirational and non-stereotypical. This is you, sitting on a kitchen chair, thinking numbers and enjoying The Math Mom's stories and puzzles. We hid at least 10 numbers inside the logo. Print this image and use your kids' help to find all of them.

Read more from The Math Mom. Here is a story about hip math of shopping.


  1. Two weeks passed from the described above discussion. We did not talk about negative numbers any more. And then suddenly, yesterday, my daughter unexpectedly said: "Mommy, I know it is 4 minus 2 and not the opposite. Otherwise it would be a carrot number, and we did not study them yet at school."
    Yes! Something stays in these tiny cute heads and Yes! we coined a new notation: Carrot Numbers.

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