(Originally posted at Here in the Bonny Glen in August, 2005.)
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.
Fun math trick: multiply with lines
How Very Handy
Learn the Greek Alphabet in Ten Minutes