Negative Numbers

We’ve been teaching Mark the set of Natural Numbers, as I suppose parents do the world over.  And, like parents do the world over, I tend to thing that my children are a bit above average when it comes to thinking.

The other day, I thought it’d be cool to ask him questions about the relative sizes of the numbers, so we started with simple questions like, “What is number is bigger than five?”  He said right away, “Six.”

“What number is between four and five?”

“Four and a half.”

“What number is less than zero.”  He thought for a while with a concerned look on his face, then tilted his head. “There’s no number less than zero daddy.”

“Well, actually there are a whole bunch of numbers less than zero.”  Now I had his attention.  “Negative one is less than zero.  And do you know how small it is?


“Negative one is so small that it’s less than nothing.  It’s less than zero..  As a matter of fact, it’s so small that if you have a negative number of something, you have so little that something that as soon as you get any of it, you have to give it away immediately, because it’s not even yours when you get it.”

“So, do you know what’s less than negative one?”

“No,” he said.

“Negative two, then comes negative three, and negative four. See, if you have negative four of something, you have so little that if you get one, you can’t keep it.  And if you get another one, you can’t keep it either, you have to give it back.  And even if you get two more, you still can’t keep them.  All you can do is give them back.  Then, all you have is zero again.  Then finally, after all that you can finally keep one.  Isnt’ that crazy? See if you can guess what number is less than negative four?”

He smiled and said really loudly, “Negative FIVE!”  Then we got out a pencil and paper and drew a number line and put a few numbers on it.

Which I thought was rather fun.

A couple days later, as we were going to bed, I asked him, “What number is right between one and negative one?”

He thought for a long time on that one.  He is just four right now, after all. Then tilted his little head and said, not too confidently, “Zero?”

Holly and I both that that was pretty fun (but I probably thought it was more fun).  We’re’ starting to work on skip counting the odds and evens next.

I suppose we ought to start working on the numbers higher than the days of the month a bit more (Holly does the monthly calendar with him most days).  Then after that we ought to start in on writing numbers with a crayon, or something similar, and then do some addition.

Actually, what I need to do is my taxes.

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