A while back, Wonderboy’s OT gave me a booklet to read about something called “Suck-Swallow-Breathe Synchrony.” At first glance, I wouldn’t have expected it to revitalize the study of math in my home, but that is exactly what has happened.
The booklet describes how the coordinating of these three actions—sucking, swallowing, and breathing—is the brain’s first major task after a baby is born. Successful “SSB Synchrony” lays the groundwork for umpteen other developmental milestones down the road. The entire discussion was fascinating, but what really jumped out at me was the description of how, later in life, the brain uses SSB synchrony as a tension reliever or to help focus on other tasks. This is why Michael Jordan sticks out his tongue when he’s playing basketball. This is why people chew on pens, mints, and fingernails. This (I now realize) is why I seem to be incapable of writing a novel without consuming vast quantities of gummy bears or gumballs. I always thought it had to do with being a sugar junkie. I now understand that it’s about the chewing—it helps my brain to concentrate on the work.
Adults, the booklet explained, quite unconsciously avail themselves of the concentration aid provided by oral stimulation. I am reminded of the editorial meetings of my past: almost everyone at the table had something to sip, munch, or chew. Kids gnaw pencils in school, but gum isn’t usually allowed, for obvious and logical reasons. But our OT told about how she used to work in a school for the deaf, and when she convinced the parents to allow the kids access to pretzels and gummy worms while they did their schoolwork, productivity skyrocketed. A child who would normally have spent 45 minutes struggling through a page of math was now finishing his work in 10 minutes.
My kids, having heard snippets of this conversation, immediately saw the possibilities.
“Let’s test the theory!” cried Jane, my junior scientist.
“Mommy, where’s some gum?” asked Rose, wasting no time. “Let’s all do some math and see if it works.”
“I want to do math too!” wailed Beanie, who, being only four, hasn’t yet climbed on the family Math-U-See bandwagon.
“Mom will make up some problems for you,” reassured practical Rose.
And so began a routine that now occurs several times a week, unprompted by me. The kids get out math books, and that’s my cue to produce some gum. They chomp contentedly and work with impressive concentration. Whether the Impressive Concentration is indeed the effect of the gum, or whether it is the effect of the desire to continue getting gum (heretofore a rare luxury), I cannot say. And I don’t much care.
Truth be told, Jane is one of those people who loves numbers and patterns and mathematical puzzles and formulas. She is working through her great-uncle’s latest college math textbook for fun. I know, I know, it seems weird to me too. But then, when I look at a window with twelve panes, I see twelve rectangles, or maybe thirteen, counting the whole window. Jane sees—oh, I don’t know how many—my brain went numb after she passed the two dozenth rectangle. (Maybe I needed some gum.) She has That Kind of Brain. So really, I’m not sure how much additional assistance the bubble gum is giving her. But what the hey. It cracks me up to hear the girls literally beg me to “let them” do some math. Gee, I’m such a nice mommy—I always say yes.
Our Week in Books, October 10 Edition
Monday Morning Reading
Cheered by Crows
From the Archives: Bubble Gum Math
I’m Being Crushed by a Six-Year-Old