Teaching Tips from a Toddler

A mom, grandmother and 2 toddlers walk into a Barber Shop ….

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 8.26.56 AMThe Barber Shop was jamming. Guys, young and old, patiently waited for their Thanksgiving Day haircut.  Simon, a curious 3 year old, had to wait his turn.  To pass the time, he explored the shop. Simon walked over to another little one and hugged him.  The little boy made a face.

  • Mom:  Simon, he doesn’t want to be hugged.
  • Simon:  Why?
  • Mom: B/c he doesn’t like it.
  • Simon:  Why?
  • Mom:  B/c he doesn’t want to be touched. (Simon lets go and continues to explore)

A man gets out of the chair, pays and starts to leave.  Simon races to the chair…

  • Mom:  Simon, it’s not your turn
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  It’s this boy’s turn (looking at my son)
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  B/c he was here before us.
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  B/c he walked into the Barber Shop before we did.

Simon, content with the explanation, walked away from the chair toward a small bucket of toys.  He grabbed a Matchbox Car and drove it up the empty barber shop chair.

In preparation of the post hair cut departure, the mom reminded Simon that he’ll have to return the toy car before leaving.

  • Mom:  Simon, remember you’ll have to leave the car here when we leave.
  • Simon: Why? I like it.
  • Mom:  It doesn’t belong to you.
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  It belongs here.
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  So other kids can play with it while waiting for their haircut.
  • Simon: Why?
  • Mom:  So you can play with it the next time you come.

Watching Simon, I chuckled thinking, “He’d make a great teacher.”  With one simple word, he kept extracting information from his mom.  Every time he replied, “why?” she offered up another piece.  Each piece building on the previous and each piece adding a level of detail which contributed to Simon’s overall understanding of the situation.

The mom did all the work – she provided evidence to back up her statements. Simon pushed for more and the mom responded by supplementing her initial explanation.  Simon stopped when he received enough information.

As teachers, we often emulate Simon’s techniques – asking students to back up their answers, explain their thinking, provide us with additional information until we’re convinced they understand the mathematical context.  Then we back off.  But only temporarily, because just like Simon, there’s always a reason for teachers to ask their students, “Why?”

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.27.46 AM


Five months after publishing this post, I came across the following Ted Talk.  The speaker’s daughter, Riley, is just like the Barber Shop toddler.


About jgvadnais

Instructional Technology Coach. Desmos Fellow. Google Level 1 Certified. SoCal transplant. New Englander at heart. Lover of yoga, dogs, green smoothies and coffee creamer
This entry was posted in building relationships, Math Education, teaching, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Teaching Tips from a Toddler

  1. Pingback: Kicking Off Genius Hour – A Guide | Communicating Mathematically

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