Settling In with a Close Eye Math Challenge
I started doing a close-eye math challenge to help my over-stimulated children calm down to rest or transition into a nap or prepare for bedtime in the evenings.
My children and I had a routine of watching Kevin and Jackie and the other artists in Draw Off episodes on Youtube. Occasionally, we would follow links to some of Kevin’s $100 challenges to his co-workers at Buzzfeed. One of these challenges was the close-eye bullseye challenge where Kevin goaded his co-workers into throwing darts with their eyes closed. I adapted the close-eye part of this challenge into a close-eye math challenge for my own children.
The close-eye math challenge started when I would lay down with one of my children to help them rest after an emotional interaction with a sibling or to transition from a high-energy activity to nap time or bedtime. We would close our eyes together--typically an undesired prospect that took some silliness and convincing to achieve--and then I would pose math questions for them to solve using their recollection or mental math skills. Having my child close their eyes accomplished a couple things. First, it helped reduce the stimulus around them that kept them from being able to relax. It helped them focus on listening carefully. Second, it helped them visualize the math problem and skills in their mind. Young children can sometimes over-rely on the use of fingers or other manipulatives for simple calculations. This type of mental math training can break that dependence.
My bigger children that just needed some time to calm down or rest would have to answer five questions before they could get up while my younger children transitioning to naps or bed would work on getting five correct to get me to snuggle them a little less. As a parent, I imagine you can usually tell when someone is calming down or when they need a little more time. The way I would slow the process down is by intermittently “checking” to make sure they had both eyes closed, by complementing their ability to solve the problem without having to write it down or use their fingers, or by drawing out my words slowly to add more space between each question. My family has come to the consensus that I have a soothing, if not monotonous voice, that can be helpful with calming children down.
The questions vary from child to child and challenge to challenge based on their different skills levels and familiarity with the context of the math problem. As I came up with questions for each child and each “challenge”, I would always try to start simple and then build up in complexity from there. This would give my children a chance to (1) experience success they could build on, and (2) ease the transition from whatever they were doing or playing with to calming down. The more energy they were using to think through the problem, the less energy they were spending dwelling on the upsetting incident or on the fact that they may not want to go to sleep. If your children are similar to mine, sometimes all it takes is to relax and stop moving for them to get the rest they need.
For my younger children, I limit the numbers in the question to what she could reasonably visualize, e.g., bicycles with two wheels each, hands with five fingers each, family cars with four wheels each, forks with four prongs each.