Quick, think of something! I dunno, uh, a trillion? Seven billion? A whole bunch?
"Well, buddy, I don't know if I can count that high."
Whew. Did I pass? Is it over? Did he notice that I don't really know?
"So, then there's infinity people?"
Dang. No! That's not what I wanted!
On a recent walk with my six year-old son, we had this conversation. At first, I was upset because I didn't have a good enough answer for him. After thinking about it, though, I was thrilled that he brought up infinity, so we talked about it and what it meant in terms of people on Earth. We talked about how infinity is a number that keeps going, but that there is actually a finite (or certain) number of people who exist on Earth, even though that number is constantly changing.
Yes, I could have easily searched for the answer online and found a solution, but there is something about the "Google-able" question that still creates an abundance of good conversation. I won't share the solution with you on here, but you can click through to find it.
The value didn't come from the solution—we never got to a solution—but from the questions that arose. We talked about how many people are in the United States, Europe, and beyond, and how we could add them all together. If he was older, we could have talked about the Census and how it can help us keep track of people. We could have discussed population density and why people live in certain areas compared to others.
But in that moment, on that walk, we used it to talk about infinity.
Here's a challenge for you: Ask your child the same question, or find a way to have them ask it to you.
What are the questions you reply with?
What information would you provide or seek out?
How long before you get to "the right answer" of it all?
If that question didn't come up, which ones did?
I would love to hear from you!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Twitter (@TableTalkMath) or comment below. Be sure to have your friends sign up for the newsletter at tabletalkmath.com for weekly updates.
Thank you for taking the time to improve math fluency for children, one table talk conversation at a time.