The other day my daughter brought home Earth Day -- Hooray!! by Stuart J. Murphy and Renee Andriani as her book report book. It's about three kids who want to plant flowers in a local park that they are cleaning up for Earth Day. They decide to redeem cans to make money to buy the flowers, which their teacher tells them will take 5000 cans. They end up launching a can drive at their school and around their neighborhood, and of course succeed in time for Earth Day. There's a fair bit of math involved as they group the cans by 10s, 100s, and eventually 1000s, and add each day's haul to the total.
This type of overtly lesson-driven book would not normally be my personal cup of tea, but my daughter enjoyed it. And there are some cute details (e.g. squirrels helping to collect the cans). But I knew what was coming next. I read Earth Day -- Hooray!! to my daughter at breakfast. As soon as she got home from school she started digging through our kitchen recycle box, looking for cans. She is now on a mission, though she does seem to understand that 5000 cans would be too many to target on her own. She stood at my side while I drank my lunchtime Fresca, waiting impatiently for me to finish, so that she could have the can.
She decided that she wanted to collect 100 cans, and then have them taken in for redemption. She seems to be motivated by a combination of environmentalism and an interest in the money. Where the math milestone for her comes in is that she is counting backwards from 100 as she adds cans to her bag. A friend kindly contributed a bag of cans (which my daughter simply had to go pick up within the hour). She counted them up, and excitedly came to me to say "We're in the 70s now." No, we don't have 70 cans, but we are in the 70s if we are counting backwards from 100.
So, redeeming aluminum cans turns out to be another unexpected way to incorporate math into the life of a six-year-old. Setting and counting down from targets, estimating how many cans can fit into one garbage bag, and, eventually, figuring out how much money she'll be due. Math is everywhere!
Thanks for reading! I hope that some of you will find this useful.