“But mommy, I don’t understand!”
I have one of those kids. The kind of kid who is absolutely brilliant when she is relaxed. But when something stresses her she gets absolutely stuck.
And that was one of those days that she was feeling stressed. And so she was stuck.
We sat together on the couch with nothing but some drawing paper on a clipboard and some markers in her favorite colors.
I was going to punch through this barrier of hers in the most off-beat, unexpected way I could think of.
And the first thing that came to mind was hippos flying through the air.
And so I told her all about hippo hopping. We were no longer discussing the distributive property – that abstract, unreachable idea that was causing her so much trouble. We were talking about hippos grabbing a number and hopping over the parentheses to share the multiplication with each of the numbers inside.
BAM! I had broken through her stress-block and she understood.
Even to this day, seven years later, we call the distributive property hippo hopping in our house. If she ever takes a math class in college or gets a job as an engineer or programmer and the subject of the distributive property comes up in conversation she will know exactly what they are talking about.
But in her mind she will always, always see hopping hippos!
The moral of the story is this: use something unexpected and off-beat to help your child when she is stuck and not only will she understand, but that little thing you think up on the fly will likely stay with her forever.