When my 7-year-old son was three, he became obsessed with Rockies baseball, and like generations of boys before him, he decided that knowing baseball stats made his father proud. So he learned his numbers by memorizing the players’ numbers. Soon he could tell you the number of every player on the team. He could tell you who had the highest number, even if that player had only been called up from the Minors for one game. He could count past 10 or 20 without a thought, because there are Rockies baseball players with numbers higher than that.
Now, he has adopted fantasy football. He wakes up thinking about who to trade to ensure a win over the weekend. He gets in the car at the end of a long school day and immediately asks what I think of yet another trade. He knows most players, their numbers, their positions and their teams.
How is it that he is already in a fantasy football league? Well, my husband promised the boys that if they picked a winning team for him this year, he would use the jackpot to buy them a Lego Super Star Destroyer – a ridiculously large Lego set.
Our seven-year-old researched player stats to participate in his first draft. He compares numbers and works with estimates on a weekly, if not daily basis. He does the math to figure out how many more points he needs to overtake his opponent. He adds, subtracts, and uses decimals to put together the best possible team for the upcoming weekend.
And he doesn’t realize that he is practicing his math facts, honing his skills, getting better than the competition effortlessly. Because he is having so much fun. And he wins!
Maybe that’s why, in general, many boys are stronger in math than many of their girl peers (though, of course, not all). The boys don’t only do it when at their school desks. They don’t only practice when they have math homework. They do it in their sleep dreaming about the next best trade in their fantasy football league. They do it at the same time they are potty trained by memorizing their Dad’s favorite baseball team by the numbers. They impress their friends at recess by knowing more stats than the next kid. They watch the clock wind down at the end of a close game, breathless, fingers crossed that their team gets that Hail Mary shot they need to win. For my seven-year-old, numbers are everywhere and all-important.
He does it for fun. He doesn’t even realize it’s math.