I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with Nathan about 6’s and 9’s. In retrospect it isn’t surprising that there was some confusion here. When Nathan and I “draw” together, we both use the same notebook, and my scribbles can easily be upside-down to him. So it isn’t too surprising that I would occasionally draw and identify a 9 without realizing that to Nathan it would read as a 6.
With this confusion established, it was hard to clear it up. Several times I tried to draw the numbers side by side for him in order to show the difference, but it just didn’t take.
Then, just recently, we got a set of foam letters and numbers that my brother’s kids had outgrown. And when Nathan picked up the 6 one day, opportunity presented itself.
“Can I show you something?” I asked, and when he handed me the number: “See, if you hold it this way, it’s a six. If you turn it upside down, it’s a nine!” I demonstrated once more and then handed it back.
“Six!” Nathan said, and then rotated the number. “Nine!”
And that was all it took. This simple, tactile demonstration impressed him as nothing else had. Furthermore, he appeared to love the dichotomy presented by this unassuming piece of foam. For days afterwards, whenever he found the 6, he would rotate it back and forth, informing me as to whether it was currently a 6 or a 9.
I’m coming to believe that for Nathan, at this age, life is all physical. Only the rudiments of abstraction are present for him. Yes, he’ll look at books with me for a while, but mostly he wants to play with the dough, dig in the gravel, crawl around pretending to be a dog.
He wants to hold the numbers in his hand.