A math-inspired story for kids

Again trying something new :-).  This children’s story was inspired by one of my first blog posts, as well as a desire to write something not just about children, but for them.  Initially I thought that this was just for little kids, but upon further inspection I decided that it could lead to interesting discussions with older kids as well.  What do you think?  Would also love to hear about any reactions from kids!

Social Animals

One evening, wolf, lion, and bear were sitting on a bench.  The lion would take turns talking to the two companions on either side of him.  He had a very strong neck that never got tired of turning back and forth.

At some point, when lion was talking to bear, the wolf caught himself thinking, “Why should I sit here idly while lion talks to bear?  I should call over someone else to sit on the other side of me so that I can talk to them when I’m not talking to lion.”

And so the wolf called fox over just for that purpose.  For a few brief moments everyone was chatting away happily, but then the bear (who was almost as fast of a thinker as wolf) found himself thinking, “Lion and wolf each have two animals to talk to and I have only one.  I should call tiger over to be my other companion.”

No sooner had the tiger gotten there than the fox became bothered by the same thoughts as wolf and bear before him.  And so boar was called.  But by then the tiger had caught on to the trend and called anteater.

At this point, the animals at the ends were noticing the unfairness of the situation as soon as they were getting there and immediately calling the next animal.  Thus, hyena, cheetah, leopard, koala, panda, and gorilla all joined the bench (it was a very long bench!).

But then – oh no! – there were no more animals to call over.  The poor creatures left on the ends had no way of remedying their situations.  This left them very unhappy, and when two are unhappy their sadness spreads to the rest.  Suddenly, everyone stopped talking and just sat there in gloomy silence.  It appeared that the evening was ruined and everyone was almost ready to go home.

But then the lion suddenly broke the silence.

“We have two animals sitting on the ends,” he said.  Everyone agreed.  “If there was only one then she couldn’t talk to herself, but surely two can talk to each other?”  There was some stirring on the bench.  The tension was high.  Everyone agreed that surely it should be possible, but how?  They were sitting so far away…  “That’s it,” said the fox, “they need to be brought closer together!”  “This bench is the wrong shape!” concluded panda, who was one of the unfortunates with no one sitting on the other side of her.

Everyone right away saw where she was going with this.  They needed a bench that was not straight.  They looked around, and before long they found one.  Everyone fit on it just perfectly and the evening couldn’t have turned out better.  What shape do you think the bench was?

Addendum: I am expecting that most kids will initially say “a circle”, but then one can have a discussion with them about what other shapes might work.  With younger kids this could lead to a discussion about what shapes are out there (Katie was surprised that strange swiggly things can count as shapes!)  With older kids, one can ask them to come up with a common feature of all shapes that the bench could be.

About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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5 Responses to A math-inspired story for kids

  1. bovetsky says:

    The story should not end like this. After the answer to your question is given, you may also discuss a fact that there are cases when everyone has a pair and cases when one animal is left alone.


  2. HI… It’s a lovely piece. It occurs to me that it might be clearer if you wrote it in a way so that students can play the parts of the animals.( Do the students that you are working with have reading skills that could go along with acting this out?) Maybe I’m just tired right now, but I found it hard to keep track of the sequence. It took me a few readings to keep track and realize that the bench sitters were expanding from both ends. Once I got that image straight in my mind, it was so clear that I nearly lost track of the fact that it took a good bit of effort to get there. I think that students younger than me might have a similar challenge. Or maybe not. It sounds like you’ve read this to a group already? Were they able to follow the sequence?
    A point of grammar (which I am pretty sure about, but don’t take my word for it): if you are referring to Lion, then that’s his name so use a capital. If you are referring to the lion, no capital is needed. Of course, this doesn’t matter if you are reading it!

    I particularly like the line ‘This left them very unhappy, and when two are unhappy their sadness spreads to the rest’

    I also like that the obvious answer is a circle but that you hope to use this “obvious” starting point to take about different shapes. This kind of exploring beyond the obvious is such a good exercise!
    You’ve created a sweet, lyrical word-problem here. It would be great if more word problems were all so engaging and full of social wisdom.


    • aofradkin says:

      Paula, thanks for the feedback! I’ve only read the story to my daughter and nephew (ages 6 and 5). I couldn’t tell if they were keeping track of the sequence, but if not, then it didn’t seem to bother them. I must admit to selecting the animals completely at random, so perhaps something could be gained from the sequence having some structure or pattern. My daughter actually interrupted me half-way through the story to ask, “couldn’t they just sit in a circle?” We did, however, have a nice discussion at the end about what other shapes the bench could/could not be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Carnival Of Mathematics #122 | Solve My Maths

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