Thinking about BIG numbers with little kids

How Much? How long? How many? Answering ONE MILLION questions is par for the course with a 5 year old.
The questions come quickly, especially in the car, where I’m captive and nothing seems to make Claire happier than rambling on about all those things she wonders about.
Claire: How long until I start Kindergarten?
Me: In September. It’s about 3 months away.
Claire: When will that be?
Me: About 90 days. 90 sleeps.
Claire: Ok.
[she counts to 90 methodically, seeming to count 14 twice because the “th” sound is a challenging one. The thirties are another interesting bump along the way; I work hard not to smile…]
I want to do it faster Mommy. How can I count it faster?
Me: Count to ten 9 times.

Claire: [racing through 1-10 in an unintelligible blur, but one that seems to satisfy her]. What about how many minutes and hours? Can you add them all up? Would it be like a million? Or more? What IS a million?
Good of you to ask young grasshopper.
As luck would have it, I had checked out a book from the library about just that.

How Many Jelly Beans? By Andrew Menotti
Check it out on Amazon 

There are lots of counting books available for children, but many stop at 10 or 20 or even 100. Estimation, especially visual estimation is so valued in mathematics curriculums but it’s hard to find concrete examples of the larger numbers. Thank you Andrea Menotti bequeathing kids this book of BIG numbers. The story was sweet, the illustrations fantastic and the concept perfect for a math-curious kid.

Each page has simple line drawing of the main characters, but it is the brightly drawn jellybeans that take center stage as siblings Emma and Aiden decide just how many jellybeans is too many. 10? 20? 10,000? On and on to ONE MILLION.
Hoarder tendencies aside, my daughter claimed about 1,000 would be great, roughly three a day.
Seeing one million of something was impressive to even us adults. I mean, think about it. How much IS one million? Have you actually seen one million of anything? Claire poured over the illustrations wondering if there were indeed one million jellybeans on the huge gatefold conclusion page.

And my final answer, the one that seemed to satisfy my ever questioning 5 year old in regards to when Kindergarten is starting?

Corn. That’s right. Corn.
I showed her the cornfield at the end of our road and sounding quite wise, I informed her that the corn would be ready for harvest when she is ready for Kindergarten. Considering my daughter is going to be starting school about 33 minutes from downtown NYC I find this answer equal parts hilarious and sage-like.

I love finding math and literature connections – share favorite picture books related to math, number sense and counting in the comments.

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