This morning while eating breakfast (I was ironing), Oli counted aloud in odd numbers to 11. Out of the blue, all by himself. I then showed him how to count in even numbers to 10. First I used my fingers, then I showed him how you could whisper every other number to yourself as you were counting, so that only the even, or odd, numbers were said out loud. He was easily able to count up to 15 in odd numbers, but he had difficulty counting in evens. He said so himself - "I can do the odd but I'm not good at the evens". I find that intriguing. Is it because with odd numbers you start with 1, just like in normal counting? Maybe that sets him off on the right foot. Or maybe it's something completely different. I recently read somewhere (I think it was in one of those 'help your child to suceed at maths' books that I scanned in a bookshop) that the key to maths is the ability to think abstractly. So the ability to do maths is linked to the ability to read, take in stories and think imaginatively, all of which also require abstract thought. I know that Oli has excellent verbal skills and I'm very proud of how much he loves books and stories and poetry ... if I've done nothing else as a mother, I've instilled that love, that ability in him.
I was very good at maths as a child, which is somewhat unusual in girls. Not that I thought it was unusual when I was a girl, but I've since met adult women who have a complete phobia about numbers and counting - including my co-parent and my best friend (that's two different women, by the way). Both of them are highly literate, in fact one is a writer by trade. So verbal skills did not translate into mathematical skills in their cases. Confidence, lack of, seems to have something to do with it.
Whenever I do a little 'lesson' with Oli, like this morning, I feel as if I'm walking a very fine line between encouraging him and swamping him. I sometimes see a look of doubt on his face, like I'm muddying the waters of his sheer joy in discovering something for himself, when I come in with all my own knowledge and methods. Like maybe I am suggesting that counting by odd numbers to 11 is not good enough, that there has to be more, and in fact I will show him the more that he doesn't yet know.
So after I had explained about odds and evens, he became a bit hesitant and almost got lost in his counting, whereas his first runs were quick and flawless and seemed not to rely on any method or understanding but just to happen. But he did recover and I finished the ironing and started making his school lunch and so left him alone with his own thoughts and numbers.