I have noticed on a number of occasions that little kids are fascinated by big numbers. They like to hear them said, they like to see them written, they like to have them visualized. So it was not surprising to me that our kindergartners loved the book How many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, which we read last week in class. Their reactions, on the other hand, were wonderful and unpredictable as always.
Before starting the book, I told the kids that this book had some pretty large numbers in it and asked each of them to name the biggest number they know. One kid said one hundred, another said a million, a third one said 700, and the fourth one said a gazillion. I told the last kid that I wasn’t sure quite how big a gazillion was, but everyone seemed to agree that it was very big.
We then started reading the book. At first the kids insisted on counting all the jelly beans that were drawn, but I warned them that pretty soon that would become a very difficult task. We first counted a set of 10 jelly beans, then 20 (discussing how it is 10 and another 10 in the process), followed by 25, and then 50. The next frame consisted of 75 beans and I told them that if we continue counting we may never get to the really big numbers later in the book. The kids felt a bit torn between the two desires but ultimately decided to just looked at the pictures from then on.
The kids were very excited with each new picture that contained more jelly beans than the previous one. As there became more and more of them, the jelly beans became smaller. “That’s because they are far away” one kid said. “Oh, like the moon and sun?” I asked. Yes, exactly like that. In fact, the kid repeated this several times throughout the story.
When we got to 1 million jelly beans the excitement went through the roof. I asked them if they thought it was a lot of jelly beans and they looked at me like “really? You have to ask that question?” and then said in unison “Yes!!!!”
I then decided to ask them if they thought that there were more or fewer than 1 million people in the world. Some thought that it was fewer and others were unsure. So I told them that there are more than 7 billion people on earth and that a billion is 1000 million. I don’t think that they had a real sense of how many that is, but looking at the million tiny jelly beans they sensed that it was a lot.