Chocolate Chip Math and Button Box Sudoku

first grade workThis week has gone really, really well.  I had my first treatment of the new chemo (and I’m so relaxed about it, I don’t even remember its name) and recovery this weekend, and I’m back on track for a good week this week!  But first, moments that I must share to remember, moments with my little ones first, and then a big ol’ braggy bit at the end.

Chocolate Chip Math

Each day, I rest from 12-3 so that I can be bright and awake when my kids come home after school.  We have a snack together and talk about school, then do homework and extra learning before I release them to play or watch a little tv at 4 (and I head back to bed for a bit so I can be up again for dinner).  Extra learning is just what it sounds like, a little extra learning on top of their day at school, time when we can learn together, adding new concepts for them to think about.  I try to riff off of current events, like mapreading if we watched a tv show about baby penguins in Australia, or math drills at Widget’s request.  Little Bear likes to join in the extra learning, pulling out his dot-to-dot workbook if Widget’s doing his workbook, and he feels so grownup about it.  I love that he’s proud of what he’s learning, and so I’m starting to make lessons just for him.

Enter Tuesday afternoon and the chocolate chip snack.  The kids were in high spirits, and, with a twinkle in their eyes, asked for chocolate chips for a snack — “just” chocolate chips.  Well, I didn’t have a good reason why not, so we sat down together and picked out a few chocolate chips for each plate.  Then we got a little playful with the chips, asking little brother to count them (counting to 6 is easy – he doesn’t have a problem until 17, but I was *not* doling out that many chips for counting!) and big brother to group them into groups of twos and threes.  Big brother Widget is just learning about multiplication, so we manipulated the groups and talked through some of the early ones.  2 groups of 3 = 6.  3 groups of 2 = 6. How can that be the same?  That’s right, the commutative property that his teacher taught him with math last week.  What if we only have 1 group of 6?  Let’s say the sentence out loud: 1 x 6 = 6.  And so on and so forth, with numbers changing as chips slipped into eager little mouths, proud of their right answers.

Little Bear joined in, wanting to be big like brother, saying the only math sentence he knows, “2 plus 2 equals 4!”  We celebrated that with him and showed him what it meant on the plate (he memorized it long ago, because it makes the Grandmas smile and fuss over him).  Using the chips, he could easily see that 2 plus 2 does equal 4.  From then, we were off to the races!  1 + 3 = 4, 2 + 2 = 4, and so on.  And then when he snuck a chip off the plate, what else was there to do but subtraction?  All of a sudden, 4 – 1 =3!  And 3 – 1 = 2!  And 2 – 2 = 0 as he stuffed the last two into his mouth.

We collapsed in giggles, having had a wonderful time with each other, learning new concepts and reinforcing old ones with chocolate chip math.

Button Box Sudoku

Widget, my 7 year old, is fascinated with numbers.  He also loves to peek over my shoulder at Mommy’s game, which is often crossword puzzles or Sudoku.  He’s been asking to learn crossword puzzles, and that’s soon, but I’m wondering if maybe his little brain would really enjoy Sudoku too.  The thing is, although the game is about manipulating numbers in a grid so that no number is repeated in any row or column, Sudoku actually has no math.  So, in theory, you could play the game with other shapes, with coins, with legos or Polly pockets accessories, or simple buttons.  I pulled down Grandma’s old button box yesterday and we set to play.

First, Widget chose five different color buttons (blue, green, red, pink, and white).  He selected five of each from the button box and laid the first five out in a column, showing me that he could do that with no repetition.  Then, I challenged him to make the same kind of column again, but without repeating the color of the button in the column to the left.  This wasn’t hard for him; he caught on quickly.  The third column went easily as well, but the fourth?  Ah, now this became tricky.  I watched his little brain work it out as Little Bear and I sorted buttons at the table, choosing our favorites and getting the others ready for a good wash (Grandma’s button box was a little rusty. Ew.).  He manipulated the buttons swiftly and surely, and got both columns four and five to work out, offering me a delighted high-five at the end of the game.

To play again, we added a set of silver buttons and one more of each color and set out to make a 6×6 grid.  This Widget accomplished quickly and easily, going back just a few times to rearrange earlier columns as needed.  I think we’ll do this a few more times and then he can join me in Sudoku next Friday and Saturday as I check back into bed and recover from chemo.

A little bit of bragging – for the Grandmas and faraway friends

The kids are doing great.  Widget brought home his first report card this week and got Es on everything but language arts.  We are so proud of him.  He told me this morning that he thinks he can get an E in everything by the end of the year.  I encouraged him, of course, but reminded him that what matters most is that he is learning, that he is a good friend, and that he is kind.  We’ll work together on the rest.

Little Bear has big news!  He lost his first tooth on Saturday!  He lost it in a swordfight with Daddy and Brother, which is just about right for this happy little sprite, always ready with a toy or a game, always asking us, “which one would you like?” and then settling into a game of legos, of cars, of battle, or just settling in for a hug.  He keeps me company while I’m resting with these hand-size games of his, and I am never too tired to fly the helicopter over the scene or to race the bad guy car away from his multitude of fire, police, and rescue trucks giving chase.

Oh, and one more thing. About that cancer.

We talked about Mommy being tired this weekend, and about the cancer.  I don’t know how it came up, but it flowed naturally and I answered their questions as many times as they wanted to ask.  I told them that I have new medicine now to fight the cancer, and that my back hurt so much on Saturday (they could tell – as LB would say, “duh..”) because the medicine is fighting the cancer cells, and the cancer cells are trying to fight back.  The cancer cells get angry (inflamed) and so it makes Mommy tired, and Mommy’s spine hurt for a while.  But that’s good news, because the medicine is stronger than the cancer, and the medicine will win.

Both kids brought up their fists and pretended to fight the cancer with me for a minute.  My eyes locked with my husband’s, and we finished the conversation, reassuring them that Mommy is doing the best she can, and that you boys are BIG HELPS.  That bringing Mommy drinks to help flush the medicine through her body is a big help, and that playing gently with Mommy instead of sword-fighting gives her body time to rest and get better.  And the thing that helps most of all is just to have fun together and to hug each other, because that makes Mommy feel strong as her body fights the cancer.

It came up again this morning, in a natural way, as I helped LB dress for school, but I’m not as worried as you may think.  After I answered his question and reassured him a bit, I asked LB how he was doing with all this: “Are you okay, Bear?”  “Of course, Mommy,” he smiled.  “I just love you.”

And that’s where I’ll leave it today.  The kids are ok.  This cancer-fighting chemo/recovery routine is becoming normal for them now, and while we have our moments (“Why can’t we go stay in the hotel this weekend?” the kids pouted after we had to cancel our trip to Cousin Andrea’s wedding this weekend (the horrendous pain in my spine made it very difficult to sit up and an 8 hour drive impossible)), it all comes down to love.  These days are far from normal, but the moments, ah, the moments, are perfect.

The love of my babies inspires me to fight each day, and to remind them each day how very much they are loved.  But enough of that for now.  Pass the chocolate chips — we still have a lot of living to do!


36 Responses to Chocolate Chip Math and Button Box Sudoku

  1. You have fabulous boys, and this is exactly the kind of post that makes it easy to see why you are my mama-role-model.

  2. Leslie says:

    Bless you, Susan. I wish you many more happy and fun weeks, months, years with your boys!

  3. Wordgirl says:

    I loved this post and echo the above about role-modeling — I can only hope to be so inventive with chocolate chips and buttons…

    I also found the last section so powerful. I just told my best friend about your blog. She’s only months into her current journey with MBC — but, like you, she has two young boys — and I think it would be such an inspiration to her.



    • Thank you. Sometimes the best encouragement is just to see that there are others out there also surviving. I have my role models, of course – and there are so many of us out there with MBC now, we need to know that we’re not alone.

      Oh, and that it’s harder to live with MBC, but it sure is possible!

  4. Jo Major Ciolino says:

    I would not have feared math the way I do if I’d had “chocolate chip math” when I was a kid! Loved the story, love how your mind works, writes and brings us all along- another step in how to be a better human being. Thank you…again.

  5. Linda says:

    I, too, would have liked math better if there were chocolate chips involved! What a great (and yummy) lesson plan for your boys!

    An extra big chocolate chip to YOU for being so sweet to so many!

  6. *m* says:

    Love this — all of it. Days with little boys and chocolate are sweet indeed!

  7. “My eyes locked with my husband’s . . .”

    What a comfort you must be to each other.

  8. Adam says:

    We’ve used chocolate chips, too. They are tastier than carrot sticks.

    Thanks for being a great mom.

  9. Thank you for the reminder that the little things mean so much to them.

  10. You are my parenting/teaching idol. This post makes me so happy! Hooray for maths! (and you and I could happily argue whether the logical processes required for Sudoku are maths or not over a cup of tea and some chocolate chips any day, I’m sure, and we’d both win).
    The love that shines out of your writing is so beautiful. Much, much love from my family to yours.

  11. Oh, I just love you… such wonderful ideas, and such wonderful news that the medicine is working!! Sending you strength and good wishes, as always!! xoxo CGF

  12. 3DayMom says:

    Loved reading this. You are SUCH an incredible Mommy!!!

    Big Hugs,

  13. Amanda says:

    I don’t know how it is that your writing steals my breath, makes me weep, but ultimately makes me feel stronger. Thank you always for sharing as you do.

    To the moments, the perfect, enduring moments.

  14. sutari says:

    I love chocolate chip math! Wait til you get to distributive property! Tanya was struggling with 11x(2+3) = (11×2) + (11×3). She was over thinking it. Trying to be tricky, to do the math and come up with different numbers. Whatever. We sort of abandoned that and went on to just do the problems. 10 minutes later she is working on a problem they are supposed to try and do “in their head” – rather than write out the long multiplication. What is 17×11? Well, 17×10 is a 170. Add another 17 to that…. “Tanya!”, I cried. “That is distributive property!!”

  15. Stimey says:

    Love the chocolate chip math. That’s my kind of learning!

    You have great kids, you know that? And a big part of that is because you and WonderDaddy are such great parents.

  16. nancyspoint says:

    As an educator, I love your math lessons with chocolate chips. What could be better than that? And I love your reminder to your little one about what’s really important – that ‘he is learning, that he is a good friend, and that he is kind.’ That’s the exact message I always tried to convey to my students and my own kids too.

    As a mother, I am touched by your lessons in love. Your family is very special. But of course you know that! Thanks for sharing about some of those ‘moments.’

  17. Pass the chocolate chips, indeed! I love hearing about your boys’ exciting accomplishments- an amazing report card and a lost tooth- hooray!- and send nothing but love your way! There is most certainly a lot of living to do and I must agree with Stimey about you and WonderDaddy being incredible parents! xoxoxo

  18. Michele says:

    This one brought tears to my eyes. You’re such a great mom and teacher, and helping me be a better one. Thanks to this post, I’m going to try chocolate chip math this week with my sons (before turning them into chocolate chip cookies, of course!).

  19. Becki says:

    Dark chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, and some of those stripey ones they trot out at the holidays–I think you could do chip Sudoku, too.

    I’m so happy you and your family have these moments. You are such an incredible mother.

  20. Linda Lawrence says:

    Great blog! Keep encouraging those math skills!! 🙂 🙂

  21. veronica says:

    They can be hard to find, but the kid has a sudoku book that starts off with shapes instead of numbers in 2×2 puzzles. The book ends (she’s still not there) with full 3×3 puzzles. I think I found this one at Michael’s a few years ago.

    She knows how much I love them & tried to make me one. It was cute how frustrated she got.

  22. I can only hope to have the same peace you have with life. You are absolutely amazing. What comes to mind is an imagined conversation between you and someone else: “Wow, how do you find the strength to fight so hard and still be such a wonderful mother and wife?” Your imagined answer: “What choice do I have? How can I not be a mother to my kids, wife to my husband and fight to keep that?” You’re my personal superhero.

  23. Just found your blog thru Pinterest and am so happy I did. YOu’re so brave and you’re family’s so lucky to have such a wonderful person in their lives. I’m pulling for you here in Iowa and wishing you all the best.

  24. Bon says:

    i did not know the words “commutative property.” laughing. no wonder i never did very well as a math substitute when i taught elementary kids! 🙂

    we have started a bit of morning “raisin math” here too…wish we lived closer. chocolate chips and raisins are quite delicious together.

  25. JenC says:

    Button Sodoku, what a great idea for my puzzle loving 4 year old that looks longingly at her Dad and 10 year old sister doing them. Heck, even me a not numbers person married to a scientist and, apparently, mother to two numbers oriented kids.

    I hope this finds you still (relatively) pain free.

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