Saturday, December 8, 2012

Zero Olives

My two-and-a-half year old son loves black olives just as much as I do. Tonight at dinner, my wife placed two olives on our son's napkin. Surprisingly, the olives remained untouched for a few minutes. He made some descriptive comments like, "The rice is delicious. The egg is delicious. The milk is delicious." You can tell what vocabulary we use around him, right? Quite the eclectic dinner, I know. Unbeknownst to me as I was taking a bite, he grabbed an olive with his hand so he could put it on his finger to eat and says, "There's one olive left, Dad!" Here's how the rest of this played out:
Me: "Yes, after you eat the one on your finger."
(we've had this conversation before)
He quickly shoves the finger-olive into his mouth.
Not wasting anytime, the olive-gobbler grabs the lonesome olive on the napkin and exclaims, "Now there's zero olives!"


This made my heart skip a beat. We haven't talked about zero for a couple weeks now. In previous olive consumptions, I've questioned my son how many are left after he devours his portion. He would sit there quietly and perplexed or would usually reply with a little, "hmph?" After giving him some time to think and reply, I would jump in and offer him a description simply labeled "zero." It kills me that a couple of his toys have the numbers one through nine, but no zero. For example, check out his toy phone. Where's the zero people??!! Seriously?

I'm a huge fan of using zero in math as much as humanly possible. To see it missing from toys means it could be missing from my son's vocabulary unless I work it in. He has placemats with letters, shapes, and numbers. Guess what number is missing. Zero plays a key role in number sense and math. My students know one of our class mantras is, "We love zero!" Zero is a wonderful number.

Our dinner conversation didn't end there. Let's see if this olive-gobbler has some depth. I held up two fingers and asked, "How many fingers do you see?"
Olive-gobbler: Two
(I take down one finger)
Me: How many fingers do you see?
Olive-gobbler: One
(I take down the last finger)
Me: How many fingers do you see?
Olive-gobbler just sits there......... "hmph"
He holds up his hand with all fingers extended and says, "Five!" (Wise-guy!)

I start over by holding up two fingers and repeat my questioning. Same exact response from the olive-gobbler. So it didn't work with the fingers. Later on during our dinner I put one of my olives on his napkin. He grabbed it.
Olive-gobbler: Zero olives left!
Me: You're right.
I put our workout on zero to rest for the night. We're getting there.

I cherish this post because it involves my son, olives, zero, and number sense. This is my first time blogging about my number sense experiences with my son, inspired by Christopher Danielson and the many number sense conversations he has with his children. Thanks man!

Olive-gobbler's dad,


  1. After reading this, I just had the same type of conversation with my daughter, also 2 and a half. Not olives though (yuck), jingle bells and goldfish. After counting three of each, and recounting when one was removed, we got to zero. "How many does Daddy have left?" My daughter just stared at me. I proceeded to introduce the concept of "none" and "zero." It seems to have stuck for now, but we shall see in a couple days when we revisit the concept.
    On a related note, my daughter has difficulty with the number four. I almost think it is a language thing, as she seems to have some trouble pronouncing the word. The result is that she often skips four when counting. I don't want this to affect her number sense down the road. Any ideas?
    As always, thanks for the post.

    1. We'll have to compare notes on the progress of zero!
      As for "four," we've frequently watched this Sesame Street video with our son for quite sometime now.
      I recently came across this one. It doesn't pack the same punch, but might help.
      Sesame Street does wonders. Hope that helps!